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Ute tribe hunting agreement gets approval

Memorandum update preserves rights

WESTMINSTER – Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners have approved an update to a 138-year-old agreement on hunting with the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

The Brunot Agreement allows Colorado’s Ute tribes to regulate hunting by their members in Southwest Colorado.

Thursday’s update with the Ute Mountain Utes has been in the works for about seven years. The Southern Ute tribe updated its memorandum of understanding with the state in 2008.

“The Utes were a hunting-gathering tribe. This preserves the history of hunting, fishing and gathering rights of the tribe,” said Ernest House Jr., a tribal member and executive secretary of the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs.

The 1874 Brunot Agreement ceded Ute lands to the U.S. government, but it preserved the right of Native Americans to hunt in much of Southwest Colorado “so long as the game lasts and the Indians are at peace with the white people.”

Colorado wildlife rangers ticketed some Utes for hunting under the agreement in the early 1970s, which led to the tribes and state signing memorandums of understanding on hunting by Native Americans.

Thursday’s update expands the list of species to include waterfowl and many small game species, and it also adds fishing.

The agreement doesn’t give tribal members the right to shoot whatever animal they want. Instead, the Ute Mountain Ute government plays the same role for its members as Colorado Parks and Wildlife – issuing permits and licenses, setting hunting seasons and punishing poachers.

For example, the agreement allows Utes to hunt mountain goats – a species for which the state issues few hunting permits.

The Ute Mountain Ute tribe agreed to limit its mountain goat permits to 5 percent of the state total, said Tony Gurzick, the Southwest regional head of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The tribes have the power to set different hunting seasons than the state.

The agreement calls on game managers for the state and tribe to meet regularly to set appropriate times and places for hunting.

Still, the Brunot Agreement has been a sore spot for some non-Native American hunters.

Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Robert Bray of Redvale said he worried about hunting in mule deer and elk winter ranges.

“There are a lot of my constituents who are uneasy with this. Our agency doesn’t have any authority over your people, and we understand that,” he told Ute leaders during Thursday’s meeting.

Bray was the lone dissenting vote Thursday when the commission ratified the update to the Brunot Agreement.

Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Gary Hayes told Bray that hunting remains well regulated.

“The floodgates don’t open. We control it,” he said, adding that Utes have their own concerns about population growth crowding out their historic hunting ranges in the Brunot area.

Davis Wing, a Ute Mountain tribal councilor and chairman of the tribe’s Brunot committee, urged hunters to report their concerns to tribal offices in Towaoc if they think someone is abusing hunting privileges.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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