By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The state Building Commission agreed Wednesday to delay voting on rescinding a $250,000 grant to help create a Native American cultural center after the Republican lawmaker pushing for it said he was hopeful a compromise could be reached on walleye spearfishing limits.
Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, proposed taking away the money given to the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa as retribution for the six Chippewa tribes raising their walleye spearfishing goals by about 5,300 walleye. That resulted in state wildlife officials imposing a one-fish limit for other non-tribal anglers on nearly 200 northern Wisconsin lakes.
Kaufert, chairman of the Assembly’s tourism committee and vice chairman of the Building Commission, said such a limit would be devastating for tourism in the north woods. But he backed away from seeking to reclaim the cultural center grant money after speaking with state Department of Natural Resources Secretary Cathy Stepp.
She plans to meet Monday with tribal leaders to discuss reaching a deal, perhaps by increasing the number of walleye released from fish hatcheries, Kaufert said.
Stepp’s spokesman, Bill Cosh, confirmed that a meeting was taking place on Monday but did not say what proposals Stepp would be offering.
“We’re going to continue our efforts to meet with the tribes and move forward on common ground, which is we all agree we want more fish in the north,” Cosh said.
Gov. Scott Walker, a member of the Building Commission, said he opposed taking back the cultural center money as Kaufert originally proposed.
“I support the center,” said Walker, who included state support for it in his last budget. “It’s an important project.”
Walker said he was hopeful an agreement could be reached before next month’s Building Commission meeting to avoid a vote on taking back the money.
The two Democratic members, Sen. Fred Risser of Madison and Rep. Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh, opposed even considering taking the cultural center money. Risser said he didn’t think the commission should hold funding of the cultural center “hostage” because of a dispute over spearfishing limits.
Work is already underway to convert a former dormitory for boys in Lac du Flambeau into the cultural center, said Ruben Santiesteban, a tribal council member who attended the meeting. The center will serve as a place to educate both tribal members and others about Lac du Flambeau history, he said.
“I want to see that we all do work together and help educate one another,” he said.
But Kaufert said the tribes have been unwilling to compromise, leading to an increase in disputes with the state over the past two years.
The tribes universally opposed a bill passed in March by the Legislature to make it easier to begin mining for iron ore just south of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa’s reservation in Ashland County. Republicans further inflamed the Chippewa last year when they established a wolf hunt, which the tribes opposed.
Last fall, the Chippewa authorized tribal members to kill an elk, a species the DNR has been struggling to re-establish in Wisconsin for nearly 20 years. They also authorized tribal hunters to kill deer at night despite the DNR’s long-standing ban on the practice.
The tribes argued that since state hunters can hunt wolves at night they should be allowed to hunt deer in the dark. The tribes filed a lawsuit demanding a federal judge allow the night hunt; the judge refused but the case is still pending.