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Judge Rules Indians Do Not Have Right to Commercial Logging

February 22, 1991

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ State officials applauded a federal judge’s ruling that treaty rights of Wisconsin’s Chippewa tribe do not include commercial logging on public lands.

A Chippewa activist called the decision ″just another hurdle″ and urged an appeal, but the state’s top legal officer said today the two sides may try to negotiate a settlement to their differences.

The ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb means ″400,000 acres of state forest land and 1.8 million acres of county land will not be subject to tribal harvest,″ said George E. Meyer, enforcement chief for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The forests are among those used by Wisconsin’s $8 billion-a-year forest- products industry.

In reversing an earlier decision, Crabb said the treaties allow Indians to cut timber for free only for personal uses such as firewood and ceremonies.

Her 39-page ruling said federal court decisions affirming the treaties did not include commercial timber harvesting in northern Wisconsin among the Chippewa’s rights.

Under treaties that ceded the northern third of the state to the United States in the 19th century, Wisconsin’s six Chippewa bands retain the right to spearfish, hunt and cut timber off-reservation on public lands in the region.

Critics claimed the treaty rights were unfair to non-Indians. They have staged large, sometimes violent protests during the Chippewa’s spring spearfishing season. Non-Indians are banned from using spears.

At a news conference today, Attorney General James Doyle joined other state officials in claiming victory, but noted that the Chippewa have also won important court victories in the last few years. He said negotiations, rather than further appeals, may be the answer to the dispute.

″I believe it is time for both sides to see if this set of rulings is something we can live with,″ Doyle told a news conference.

If one side appeals the case, both sides are certain to do so, he said.

Tom Maulson, a Lac du Flambeau Chippewa and organizer of treaty spearfishing outings, said the tribe should appeal.

″It is still a victory in the eyes of the Indian. We have a reaffirmed right to go out there and exercise″ wood-cutting rights, Maulson said.

Mrs. Crabb had ruled in 1988 that previous court rulings defining Chippewa treaty rights included commercial logging. Last year, four Chippewa bands began logging operations in northern Wisconsin forests.

Under Thursday’s ruling, Chippewa members remain entitled to bid on state and county contracts in which loggers pay a fee for the wood they cut.

Mrs. Crabb said the Indians are permitted the rights that they had exercised in 1837 and 1842 when they signed the treaties with the federal government.

″Commercial logging is ... an entirely different activity from any the Chippewa engaged in at treaty time,″ she wrote. ″They did not harvest trees for use as logs or for saw boards.″

She said the treaties allow the Chippewa to gather ″firewood, tree bark, maple syrup, sap, lodge poles, boughs, marsh hay or other miscellaneous forest products,″ as their ancestors did 150 years ago.

The ruling is the last in a series of federal court decisions that have defined Chippewa rights.

The judge scheduled a hearing next week to hear comments before issuing a comprehensive treaty rights judgment.

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