State officials will take public comments here Thursday on whether they should renegotiate a 15-year-old settlement that stripped hunting rights from non-Indian residents of the Colville Indian Reservation.
Reopening the controversial deal could have far-reaching and perhaps unpredictable consequences for anglers and hunters.
“There is potential for a lot of backlash, depending on what decision we make,” said Kelly White, a state Fish and Wildlife commissioner from Kettle Falls.
While sacrificing trappers and big-game hunters, the settlement secured the right of non-Indians to fish throughout Lake Roosevelt and other waters that border the reservation with just a state fishing license. It also allowed non-Indians to hunt upland birds on the reservation.
The tribal government had sued the state in a dispute over whether state could regulate non-Indian hunting and fishing within the reservation boundaries. To uphold its part of the settlement, Fish and Wildlife declared an emergency shortage of game animals and banned non-Indian hunting and trapping.
White said he and few other commissioners talked with tribal officials and found them reluctant to change the 1982 agreement.
“They’re real hesitant to agree to any additional hunting opportunity, or much more anyway, for nontribal members,” White said.
Tribal officials could not be reached for comment.
Ervin, 78, has consistently spoken of how unjust he believes the deal was to him and other non-Indian residents of the reservation.
Palmer said the state Fish and Wildlife Commission’s plan to re-examine the controversial settlement is long overdue, but he is not optimistic he will ever be allowed to hunt again on the 120 acres he owns near Inchelium.
He believes Thursday’s meeting was deliberately scheduled with little more than a week’s notice while the Ferry County Fair is in progress.
“They’ve planned and done these things for years to get low turnout,” Palmer groused.
Lisa Pelly, Fish and Wildlife Commission chairwoman, said Palmer and Kent, Wash., trapper James Brummett are leaders among the critics who persuaded the commission to re-examine the settlement.
“I have heard personally from maybe only four or five landowners up in that area,” Pelly said. “It’s not a very large group.”
Still, she said, “My personal feeling is that we just need to sit down and see if we can renegotiate something.”
Brummett believes Fish and Wildlife officials are afraid of the decision a Thurston County Superior Court judge has promised next month in a lawsuit he filed against the department. Brummett asked the judge to overturn the hunting closure because it was based on a “fraudulent” claim that game was in short supply.
“Just 20 minutes ago, I chased a bear off my porch,” Palmer said Monday. “I had 47 head of elk here just night before last. I couldn’t keep cattle because there are so many elk here now.”
That may be a more potent argument than any Palmer and Brummett have used so far.
Palmer failed with a lawsuit based on his property rights. Brummett wound up paying about $1,500 in fines and court fees after he shot a bear on Palmer’s property in 1990 to challenge the hunting ban.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: PUBLIC MEETING Thursday’s public meeting will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Okanogan Grange, 305 Tyee St. Comments also may be mailed to: Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission, 600 Capitol Way North, Olympia WA 98501.
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