Harvest shows sound wildlife co-management

After years of state and tribal efforts to restore the dwindling Nooksack elk herd, tribal and non-Indian hunters may have a chance to share the harvest of 30 surplus bulls. This is a terrific sign that our restoration efforts are working and is a direct result of effective wildlife co-management by the state and treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington.

The rebounding of the Nooksack herd is just the latest success to come out of the partnership between the tribes and the state. For decades, treaty tribes in Western Washington and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have worked cooperatively to protect and restore wildlife and its habitat. Tribes have contributed significant amounts of money and thousands of hours of work to ensure the continued health of this resource.

It is important to remember that tribes hunt only for subsistence and ceremonial purposes, not for sport or commercial reasons. When our ancestors signed treaties with the U.S. government, giving up all of the land that is now Western Washington, we reserved the right to continue hunting on open and unclaimed land.

As sovereign governments, we develop our own hunting seasons and regulations, but we do so in cooperation with the state. Before opening any area to hunting, many tribes forward their regulations to WDFW for review and comment.

Our hunts are based on sound science and are highly coordinated. Our hunters have the same mandatory harvest reporting requirement as non-Indian hunters. All tribal hunters carry photo identification cards that include their name, date of birth, tribal affiliation and other information. If a tribal hunter doesn’t follow the regulations, he is cited in tribal court and risks losing hunting privileges. The ratio of tribal enforcement officers to treaty hunters is higher than the ratio of state officers to non-Indian hunters.

Elk is an important traditional food for Indian people. A good source of protein, elk meat also helps stretch tight food budgets for tribal members in areas with high unemployment. Elk also is central to some tribal ceremonies, while antlers and other parts of the animal are used for tribal regalia.

Treaty tribal hunters are few in number, compared to non-Indian hunters. Last year in Western Washington, tribal hunters harvested 389 elk; non-Indian hunters harvested 8,666. Tribal hunters harvested 683 deer, while non-Indian hunters harvested 39,791. More deer and elk are killed each year by cars than tribal hunters. The treaty Indian tribes in Western Washington collect harvest numbers annually, share the data with the state and post it online at www.nwifc.org/wildlife/biggame.asp.

The improvement we’ve seen in the Nooksack herd demonstrates that state and tribal wildlife co-management is effective. Clearly, this partnership offers the best chance we have to protect and enhance our wildlife resources.

Todd Wilbur, a Swinomish Tribal member, is chairman of the Inter-Tribal Wildlife Committee, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

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