Washington Fish and Game Commission meeting notes


Mar 11, 2001
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Dirty linen ... hunting rights ... talking about cougars.

Bob Mottram, Scripps-McClatchy Western Service

A couple of Fridays ago I'm in Vancouver for a Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting, and I check into my motel - the one where the meeting is to be - and in my room I find a message from the management.
The message contains a request. An appeal, in fact.

"Help Save Mother Earth," it says.

Wow. Mother Earth. The Fish and Wildlife Commission certainly has picked the right motel.

All I have to do is reuse my towels and bed linens, the message says, and I'll have joined with Hospitality Associates to protect the environment.

I didn't know it would be so easy.

Hotels and motels all over America are getting on board with this, and it certainly warms the heart. Imagine - corporations everywhere so concerned about our precious planet that they're willing to forego washing towels and sheets.

Is this a great country, or what?

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This would be a good time, while we're in Vancouver, to clean up a few loose ends from that meeting.

One of the things the commission did was to extend the recognized southern boundary of the hunting area of the Medicine Creek Treaty Indian tribes. The new line brings most of eastern Lewis County and part of northern Skamania County into the area where the tribes can set their own hunting rules and hunting seasons. The tribes are the Muckleshoot, Puyallup, Nisqually and Squaxin Island, which are interested in Lewis County for its elk.

And the story contains an interesting twist. Apparently, it was territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens - possibly without the knowledge of the tribes - who assured their right to hunt there.

In December of 2000, the tribes, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the prosecutors of Pierce, Thurston, Lewis, Mason and Grays Harbor counties, having grown tired of enforcement disputes about tribal hunting rights, agreed on a process to establish a mutually recognized southern boundary. It would encompass lands the tribes ceded to the federal government under the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.

They agreed that the determination would guide all prosecution decisions in the future concerning the exercise of treaty hunting rights. The parties selected two mediators, a lawyer and a professor of geography to decide where the boundary lay.

The tribes claimed an area that extended from Mount Rainier south to Mount St. Helens, then northwesterly to the headwaters of Skookumchuck Creek. They based their contention on a rough sketch of a map that Stevens purportedly sent to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in December 1854.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife contended the map was inconsistent with the language of the treaty, and said the lands surrounding Mount St. Helens and those of the Cowlitz River drainage were known by the federal government and the Medicine Creek Treaty tribes of that time to have been occupied exclusively by Cowlitz Indians.

Doesn't matter, the mediators said. Medicine Creek tribes traveled and traded there, and intermarried with the Cowlitz Tribe. So forget about treaty language, they said. Stevens' map rules. Because if Stevens "intended a larger ceded area than that intended by the tribal representatives, Stevens' intent must prevail." Any other interpretation, the mediators said, "would do violence to the principle that doubtful expressions are to be resolved in favor of the weak and defenseless people who are the wards of the nation."

The mediators said the southern boundary of the area should extend into the Cowlitz River Basin from a point east of Mount Rainier, going south along the crest of the Cascades to Old Snowy Mountain, then southwestÊto Badger Peak, which is located just northeast of Mount St. Helens, then northwesterly from Badger Peak to the headwaters of Skookumchuck Creek.

And how do the Cowlitz Indians feel about this?

Left out of the process.

Robin Torner, chairman of the Cowlitz Tribal Council, told the commission the new boundary reaches way south of the other tribes' area "into our treaty area.

"If it's our territory it can't be somebody else's," he said.

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Cougars were a big issue at the Vancouver meeting, as cougars have continued to be ever since Washington voters in 1996 outlawed the hunting of cats with hounds. Chasing them up a tree with dogs is the only effective way to catch them, and in the years since that was prohibited, a lot of rural folks have been complaining that it's getting more and more dangerous to go outside.

The commission was considering a proposal to liberalize the rules somewhat by allowing a chase-only season, aimed at making cougars more reluctant to confront people, but backed down in Vancouver in the face of animal-rights opposition.

That anti-hound-hunting initiative that passed in Õ96 was sponsored and supported by the Humane Society of the United States, (which is a wealthy animal-rights organization, by the way, not affiliated with the Humane Society of Pierce County or other local societies). Other organizations could take a lesson from it about how to work effectively.

The commission had sent copies of the proposed liberalized rules to sportsmen's organizations, county governments, agricultural associations, commercial timbermen, legislators and HSUS. By Nov. 20, it had received four comments in support of the proposal, and just two against - one from HSUS, the other from the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. Then HSUS sent out an e-mail alert to its members.

By Dec. 7, the day of the meeting, the commission had received 20 comments in favor of the proposal. And 140 against.

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One of the favorite tactics of animal-rights activists is to demonize people who disagree with them, particularly people who hunt. They went at it again in Vancouver, testifying that instituting a chase-only season with dogs would be little more than a cover for widespread poaching by unscrupulous hunters.

The tactic finally drew a rebuke from commission member Fred Shiosaki of Spokane.

"If I were a hunter, and I'm not, I would resent the implication that hunters are poachers," Shiosaki told the witnesses. "They are not."

Hunters are as sincere, he said, "as the people who came here to testify."

(Contact Bob Mottram at the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., at http://www.tribnet.com.)

December 19, 2001

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