Indian Loggers Start Cutting
ST. GERMAIN, Wis. (AP) _ Wisconsin’s Chippewas, already under attack from sportsmen for taking advantage of 19th century treaties letting them spear fish off the reservation, have begun exercising their right to cut timber as well.
Four Indians began logging in a state forest Tuesday, but it was more ceremonial than commercial. They ″cut a couple of trees for the TV cameras,″ said Ralph Hewett, a state Department of Natural Resources spokesman.
″They really couldn’t get started because they were waiting for some shearing equipment,″ Hewett said.
The Mole Lake Chippewa band was authorized to begin cutting wood for free in the Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest north of Minocqua. The forest is among those used by the state’s $8 billion-a-year paper industry.
Federal courts since 1983 have said that the Chippewas, according to 19th century treaties under which the tribe ceeded northern Wisconsin to the U.S. goverment, may hunt, fish, trap and cut timber on public property.
Since 1983, they have exercised only the right to spear fish, encountering sometimes violent protests by fishermen who fear game fish will be depleted.
If non-Chippewas were to cut the timber made available Tuesday, they would have to pay about $160,000 for it. The wood is free to the Chippewas.
So far, the Mole Lake band is the only one of Wisconsin’s six Chippewa groups seeking to cut timber.
Hewett said the logging is under interim rules adopted by the department. A federal judge is expected to issue a complete ruling later this year.
″It’s not like they can come in here and cut anything they want,″ Hewett said. ″That’s why we’re happy with the plan.″
Chippewa leaders said that most of the timber will be sold to pulp paper companies and that the band will eventually build its own mills.
″This is something to get our feet wet and see how the process goes,″ Jim Landru, Mole Lake treasurer. He said the enterprise would help generate jobs on reservations where unemployment commonly exceeds 50 percent.
Non-Indian loggers are concerned about the effect on the state’s forest products industry, which employs about 77,000 people, Hewett said.
Thomas Schmidt, president of the Wisconsin Paper Council, said the 33 pulp and paper companies in the trade group were watching the situation but have taken no position on it.