Furor erupts over tribal moose kill

Lac du Flambeau, Wis. — A Lac du Flambeau tribal member kicked off a heated social media discussion two weeks ago about whether the shooting of a female moose in Vilas County was ethical, even if the shooting was legal since it took place on a reservation with no tribal code in place to make the action illegal.

That ethics question shouldn’t ever come up again.

The Lac du Flambeau Chippewa Tribal Council met in a special session Monday, July 11 and passed an emergency rule that protects not just moose, but also albino deer, elk, and cougars, according to a report from WJFW Channel 12 of Rhinelander.

The emergency rule will stay in effect until tribal ordinances can be amended, according to the WJFW report.

In the meantime, an investigation into the shooting fizzled, since the shooting took place by a tribal member on the Lac du Flambeau reservation. Wisconsin DNR game wardens have no jurisdiction on the reservation, even though a local game warden was called out initially. Once the DNR game warden confirmed that the man who shot the moose was a tribal member, the case was turned over to the LdF warden team.

Although the killing of the young moose left many people upset – tribal and non-tribal alike – the act has been deemed legal, according to representatives from the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), who said tribal members were within legal bounds by tracking, shooting and killing the animal.

Several moose sightings have been reported in Lac du Flambeau, Springstead and the Manitowish Waters area since early May. While it’s unlikely that all of the sightings are of the same moose, no one knows for sure how many moose might be in the area. It is believed that the moose that was shot July 6 in the Mishonagon Creek area is the same young cow that had been seen and photographed for nearly a week by locals and visitors near the eastern border of the reservation along Hwy. 47.

According to the Lac du Flambeau tribe, on Wednesday, July 6 at about 1 a.m., the moose previously captured on camera and seen along the roadside for at least a week was shot by a tribal member on the Lac du Flambeau reservation.

Minocqua resident Ross Trottier saw the moose and allegedly Melvin “Junior” LaBarge on Hwy. 47 the evening of July 5 at about 9 p.m. just outside of Woodruff near the reservation border. Trottier was in his vehicle heading southeast into Woodruff on Hwy. 47 near Mishonagon Creek when he saw the moose cross in front of him.

“I saw it come from my left and enter the ditch on the right and I said to myself, ‘That looks way too big and too high off the ground to be a bear,’ ” Trottier said. “When I got up to where it was standing just off the road you could tell something wasn’t right with it. I’ve hunted enough to know that an animal shouldn’t be standing next to a road without its ears perked up or with its head hanging down toward the ground.”

Just a few moments later Trottier said he put it together.

“There was a blue pickup truck parked on the snowmobile trail just off the road and a few more cars stopped on the road where the moose crossed,” he said. “I took my phone out and got a photo of the moose facing away from me when I saw something coming from my left. Pretty soon I see this guy come through the ditch with a rifle in his hand and he’s kind of like, ‘Where did he go?’ That’s when I knew the moose was probably wounded and these guys were hunting him.”

The location Trottier described is only minutes from downtown Woodruff.

While the tribe did not identify the party, whose photo was posted online with the head of the moose, sources say the group consisted of tribal members LaBarge, Bradley Thompson and Josh Barber. There has been no official announcement from authorities stating which tribal member actually shot the moose. Trottier did identify the man in the photo not holding the moose head as the person who he saw carrying the rifle on Hwy. 47.

At the time, Trottier called a friend who is a GLIFWC warden. The warden informed Trottier that authorities had been notified and that as long as the hunters were on the reservation there was nothing GLIFWC could do.

A number of tribal members spoke out against the shooting. Some tribal members called for emergency action from the Lac du Flambeau Tribal Council to protect future moose that make their way onto the reservation.

“Actions need to be taken to make sure this sickening act never happens again and Melvin needs to be held accountable,” said tribal member Bill Poupart. “There are tribal rights and then there are rights and wrongs. This is definitely a wrong. There is nothing traditional in Lac du Flambeau about shooting a moose.”

Tribal officials released a statement as word spread of the moose’s demise.

“Due to the rarity of moose in this area, the tribe does not condone hunting of moose,” the statement read. “The Lac du Flambeau Natural Resources Department, Conservation Department and tribal attorney’s office are working on an emergency rule to present to the Tribal Council that prohibits the hunting of moose within the Lac du Flambeau boundaries.”

According to several sources, officers responded to the area at about 1 a.m. on Wednesday, July 6 after one or more motorists reported seeing a fire in the woods just off of Hwy. 47. The Lac du Flambeau Police Department was dispatched to the site, where officers found tribal members butchering a moose by the light of a campfire. Lac du Flambeau Conservation Department personnel and a Wisconsin DNR game warden were then called to the site. The DNR noted that the tribe has jurisdiction in this issue, according to Dave Zebro, the DNR’s Northern Region game warden supervisor.

Poupart suggested LdF Tribal Council President Henry “Butch” St. Germain needed to address the matter immediately.

“My grandfather hired Butch St. Germain when he came to town,” Poupart said. “He would expect Butch to do the right thing. And as our tribal leader I expect Butch to do the right thing.”

Poupart, who has been hunting on the reservation for more than 40 years, said he has never seen a moose outside of captivity.

“The only person I ever knew to shoot a moose was my grandpa, William Poupart, and he shot it up in Canada,” Poupart said. “He was a well-known hunter, fisherman, trapper and guide. He would be embarrassed and sickened by this. Brad is his great-grandson and our family is sickened by this as you can see from some of the comments online.”

According to Wisconsin state statute, a moose is considered a game animal much the same as deer, elk, bear, rabbits, squirrels, fox and raccoon. However, there is no state moose hunting season.

Because moose are not endangered or protected in Wisconsin, the shooting of one by anyone outside of an Indian reservation is a civil forfeiture of $262.50. Also, according to State Statute Chapter 29, with the civil ruling also comes a fine of no less than $1,000 and no more than $2,000 along with the loss of hunting privileges for no less than three years and no more than five years upon conviction.

While there were a wide range of online comments regarding the ethics of shooting such an animal, many people who posted comments wondered how this incident could not be prosecuted, even if that task fell to tribal court. At least two persons had gone to the GLIFWC web site from which they copied page 15 of GLIFWC hunting rules. The following comes from this link: https://www.glifwc.org/Regulations/Hunting37and42_82514.pdf.

17. Protected Species. It is illegal to hunt any of the following species:

A. Minnesota 1837 Ceded Territory: wolverine, flying squirrel, wolf, cougar, elk, homing pigeon or any wild bird (except where bird hunting is specifically allowed and regulated).

B. Wisconsin 1837 and 1842 Ceded Territories: marten, wolverine, badger, flying squirrel, wolf, lynx, cougar, moose, homing pigeon or any wild bird (except where bird hunting is specifically allowed and regulated).

C. Michigan 1842 Ceded Territory: wolverine, badger, flying squirrel, wolf, lynx, cougar, elk, moose, homing pigeon or any wild bird, except those species whose harvest is specifically regulated pursuant to the provisions of this ordinance.

Here’s the distinction: GLIFWC hunting regulations apply to members of the state’s six Chippewa tribes who are hunting public lands (national forests, state forests, county forests, etc.) in an off-reservation setting. Those same GLIFWC regulations do not apply to tribal members hunting on reservation lands. Lac du Flambeau had no tribal code at the time that specifically sets a moose season.

It’s not fully clear whether the moose was an adult cow, juvenile cow, or a calf from this spring. The animal in the photo is clearly an antlerless moose.

Several moose have been seen in the area since 2012. Last year, Springstead residents reported seeing two bulls, a cow and a calf in their area of southern Iron County. This summer, a number of residents and visitors have posted photos and video of antlerless moose along Hwy. 47 north of Lac du Flambeau near the Powell Marsh. A video was also recorded in June of a cow moose swimming across Wild Rice Lake in Vilas County north of Lac du Flambeau.

Other photos of at least one adult cow moose from the area were posted on Facebook after the July 6 shooting.

Doug Etten is assistant editor of the Vilas County News-Review. 

Wisconsin Outdoor News Editor Dean Bortz contributed to this report.

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