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Guest column: Tribes provide insight on treaty hunting rights
Now that the new year is under way, we, the elected leaders of the Port Gamble S’Klallam, Jamestown S’Klallam and Lower Elwha Klallam Tribes, would like to offer some perspective, and try to clarify the wildlife management relationship between the State and our Tribes.
Washington is one of the few states where state and tribal governments share responsibility for fish and wildlife resources. Our right to fish and to hunt wildlife was guaranteed when the Treaty of Point No Point was signed in 1855 with the federal government. With that right, however, comes the responsibility to co-manage fisheries and wildlife, and we take that seriously.
We employ biologists who monitor wildlife populations, determine the herds to be harvested, and work with the State’s Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists to develop recommendations for limits on hunting seasons. We use these recommendations when adopting our annual hunting regulations. We also employ a staff of experienced, professional law enforcement agents to ensure compliance with these regulations by tribal citizens.
Historically, our people hunted year round. That is no longer the case. The advent of population growth in Washington and the loss of wildlife habitat, increased science-based wildlife management, and modern weapons (giving an ever-increasing advantage to the hunter) are all factors in the evolution of our traditions.
Today, tribal citizens may hunt only during limited seasons, must comply with daily and seasonal bag limits, and face restrictions on hunting hours, weapon types, and age and sex of animals taken. Like the state, each tribe requires its citizens to purchase a hunting license and all the necessary permits. Tribal hunters must mark their harvested animals with big game tags, and must report each animal harvested to their respective tribal natural resources department.
No tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, or in western Washington, permits commercial hunting either by its members or by non-members within any reservation.
Both the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife post game harvest reports on the Internet, so the public may see where and how many animals were harvested.
A quick comparison shows that the tribes have a minor impact on Washington’s wildlife populations. For example, in the 2008-09 hunting season, hunters from the 20 Western Washington Treaty Tribes took 873 deer and elk. By contrast, non-tribal citizens successfully hunted 45,916 deer and elk. Legal tribal harvest has less of an impact than non-tribal poaching. In the 2008-09 hunting season, 1,744 arrests of non-tribal citizens were made in big game hunting cases.
Tribal hunters do not hunt for sport. They hunt to put meat on their family’s dinner table, or provide food for guests at traditional ceremonies. They also gather materials to make cultural artifacts, such as ceremonial drums constructed of cedar and elk skin. Wildlife in the Northwest is of inestimable value to its native people.
The loss of habitat, human population growth, development, the increasing demand for resources, non-native species invasions, and a changing climate all present wildlife managers with challenges. We sincerely hope that the leaders of Washington State will realize that addressing these challenges requires cooperation, not confrontation.
Most important, we invite all citizens of Washington state and tribal alike to join us in ensuring that the world we leave for our grandchildren will be as rich in the abundance and diversity of wildlife as the one our grandparents left to us.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and Point No Point Treaty Council
Chairman, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe
Chairwoman, Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe