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State, Local Conservation And Property Groups Call For Continued Cooperation Over Propopsed U.S. - Michigan - Tribal Treaty Agre
Lansing, Mich. - Conservation and property rights organizations say a proposed agreement announced today between five northern Michigan native American Tribes with state and federal officials is a tough, but fair process and is the right decision for Michigan's natural resources.

The tentative agreement - now pending review by several of the participating Tribes and final approval by the court - clarifies the scope of the Tribes' hunting, fishing and gathering rights on northern land, as defined by the U.S. -Tribal Treaty of 1836. In 2005, state and federal officials, along with Tribal leadership, entered into negotiations aimed at settling litigation, which had been ongoing since 1973. The proposed agreement was announced earlier today by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which represented the State in the negotiations.

Thirteen sportsperson and property rights groups joined the litigation as "amicus curiae" (friends of the court participants). This status allowed the groups to provide input into the litigation, but did not grant them party status or decision-making authority. These groups were present at the depositions and later, the negotiating table, voicing concerns and working to uphold their core values related to conservation, scientific management of resources and property rights protection.

"The parties (below) participated in the process with the important goal of defending the longstanding core values of our members and all of Michigan's hunters, anglers, property owners and outdoorsmen and women," said Dennis Muchmore, Executive Director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

"We have worked to ensure healthy and sustainable game and fish populations, to protect private property rights and to preserve Michigan's sportsperson's heritage," he continued. "While we successfully achieved many, but not all, of our goals, previous court rulings made it clear that settling the litigation was the most advantageous approach for us and for Michigan's sportsmen and women."

Critical to the success of the settlement are its provisions for the parties to meet regularly to resolve any resource management issues that may arise. "This is a critical piece of the process for Michigan's sportsmen and women," said Frank Krist, representative of the Hammond Bay Area Anglers Association. "The willingness of the state and Tribes to work together to ensure adequate enforcement, monitoring, and research under this agreement is going to be essential for maintaining the health and viability of our game species. We want to be part of this effort to work together to see that these needs are met."

"Our mutual priority is the long term protection of resources. Both tribal and non-tribal parties have fared better as a result of this agreement," said Alan Terry, President of the Cheboygan Area Sportfishing Association. "We want to protect the health and abundance of our natural resources and commit to working with the State and the Tribes to achieve this goal."

Most of the participating groups have strongly advocated the agreement as prudent in light of recent state (Wisconsin and Minnesota) and federal court rulings that resulted in diminished sportsmen's rights to the advantage of tribal rights. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin's Treaties were litigated in federal court and resulted in the court awarding as much as 50 percent of the take of many important game species to the Tribes.

Some aspects of the settlement will cause consternation among Michigan sportsmen and women, but when compared to the court decisions in Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan is faring much better. For example, the settlement does not provide for the commercial harvest of fish and wildlife beyond what state law already allows, while the Wisconsin and Minnesota rulings allowed those state's tribes to commercially harvest several species.

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TREATY BACKGROUND

Treaties with Indian Tribes are the supreme law of the land; state governments and courts are strictly bound by the terms of treaties. In 1836, the U.S. Government entered into a treaty with five Michigan tribes wherein the tribes ceded lands covering approximately the upper third of the Lower Peninsula and the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula to the U.S. Government in exchange for compensation. Under the Treaty, the tribes retained certain hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on treaty lands until those lands were "required for settlement." Previous Supreme Court decisions have consistently ruled that the passage of time cannot erode treaty rights. In 1979, the U.S. federal court ruled the waters of the Great Lakes can never be settled. Thus, the Tribes retained certain treaty provided rights. The Court's ruling did not address lands or inland lakes and streams. The recent negotiations have focused on lands and inland water bodies.

After depositions from expert witnesses were completed in early 2005, the State and Tribes decided it would be better for all concerned to negotiate a settlement instead of having a Judge make the decision. Usually a negotiated agreement is more acceptable to the parties than one that is imposed by a Judge.

To view the proposed Consent Decree visit www.michigan.gov/dnr.

To see a list of Frequently Asked Questions and a full comparison of Wisconsin, Minnesota and the proposed Michigan settlement go to www.mucc.org.

Media Contact:

Frank Krist, Hammond Bay Area Anglers Assoc. (C) 989-351-2053, (H) 989-734-3100

Erin McDonough, MI United Conservation Clubs (W) 517-346-6475, (C) 517-775-9500

Steven Schultz, Coalition to Protect MI's Resources (W) 517-371-8152, (C) 517-648-1315