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Minnesota DNR moves ahead with new bear permit area on Minnesota's Northwest Angle

The Red Lake Nation remains opposed to bear hunting but agreed to the new permit area proposal

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Black bear.
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ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, after conversations with the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, has moved ahead with a plan to create a separate bear permit area on Minnesota’s Northwest Angle, the agency announced Friday.

The new Bear Permit Area 14 will be in effect for the bear season that opens Thursday, Sept. 1, and closes Sunday, Oct. 16, the DNR said.

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Statewide, the DNR is offering 3,604 licenses in 14 permit areas this year, a slight increase from 3,575 licenses in 2021, when the Northwest Angle wasn’t a separate bear permit area.

Bear hunting has occurred on the Northwest Angle for decades, but the area previously was part of Permit Area 12, which basically extends from the southern shore of Lake of the Woods to the northern border of the Red Lake Indian Reservation.

The DNR will offer 10 bear hunting permits for the new permit area, Dave Olfelt, director of the DNR’s Fish and Wildlife Division, told the Herald on Friday afternoon.

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“That represents sort of a status quo harvest pressure for that part of Minnesota,” Olfelt said.

Creating a new permit area specific to the Northwest Angle addresses a different landscape, population dynamics, vegetation and food resources, as well as concerns about increased interactions between bears and Angle residents, the DNR said.

The new permit area offers more flexibility to develop hunting strategies specific to the Northwest Angle’s bear population and control hunting pressure accordingly, the DNR said.

Tribal opposition

The DNR first proposed a separate bear permit area for the Northwest Angle in February and held public meetings at the Angle and in Warroad, Minnesota. The proposal, which resulted after widespread nuisance bear problems on the Angle during last summer’s drought, drew opposition from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa because tribal leaders felt they hadn’t been adequately consulted.

About 80% of the land on the Northwest Angle – a Minnesota exclave bordered on three sides by Canada – is tribally owned.

“There was a breakdown in communication, and nobody wanted that,” Olfelt acknowledged.

DNR leadership subsequently had conversations with Red Lake tribal leaders and reached an agreement to create the new bear permit area that was announced Friday.

“It became clear through those conversations that the Red Lake tribe is interested in splitting off the Northwest Angle as its own bear management unit,” Olfelt said. “They have concerns about harvest there, and so we are committing to ongoing conversations about what that looks like, what bear management looks like in the future.”

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Tribal lands will remain closed to bear hunting in the new permit area as they have during previous hunts on the Angle, Olfelt said, and DNR leadership will meet in person with Red Lake tribal representatives in the near future.

There have been no in-person meetings to this point, he said.

In a news release Friday, the Red Lake Tribal Council said it remains opposed to a bear hunt on the Angle but notified DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen of their support for the new bear permit area after it had “fully reviewed and discussed” the proposal with Strommen.

In conversations with the DNR, tribal leaders also shared the cultural significance of the “Makwa,” or bear, in their traditional clan system and their ban of bear hunting on tribal lands, the news release indicated.

Trespass concerns

Beyond the cultural significance, any bear hunt on the Angle will likely require hunters to cross tribally owned lands to access state-owned lands. Potential trespass issues remain a concern, and the upcoming in-person meeting between DNR and tribal leaders will hopefully address those concerns, Olfelt said.

“We understand and we appreciate that they don’t want trespass and they are prohibiting harvest on tribal lands,” Olfelt said. “We respect and honor that.”

Because so much of the Angle is tribally owned, the creation of a separate bear permit area means the tribe’s viewpoints will carry “significantly more weight” as rules and regulations are developed for the new permit area, the Red Lake news release stated.

Previously, the Northwest Angle and tribal lands were only a small part of a much larger permit area.

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“We look forward to working in partnership with Commissioner Strommen to ensure our tribal lands are protected and our views on the hunting of bears are given a priority,” Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. said in a statement.

Other bear season news

The DNR on Friday said it also has modified the boundaries of permit areas 28 and 47 to follow the Leech Lake Reservation boundary. This change is consistent with adjustments made to deer permit area 197 in 2021.

The deadline to apply for a bear license in the permit areas is Friday, May 6. The number of permits available is based on Minnesota’s bear population, which has stabilized and started to increase during the past nine years because of more conservative permit quotas. Populations in nearly all bear permit areas are stable to increasing, the DNR said, and several permit areas in northern Minnesota require additional permit reductions to stabilize their populations.

An unlimited number of bear licenses also will be sold over the counter for the no-quota area that includes far northwestern and east-central Minnesota. No-quota licenses are valid only in the no-quota area.

Hunters with either a quota or no-quota license who are interested in taking a problem bear should contact the area DNR wildlife manager ( mndnr.gov/Areas/Wildlife ) to be added to the hunter contact list if the opportunity arises.

Complete instructions about how to apply for a license, maps of permit areas and a listing of permit availability for each area are available on the DNR website ( mndnr.gov/Hunting/Bear ).

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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