OUT: Brunot Agreement fulfilled October 19, 2008

An agreement signed more than 130 years ago between the U.S. government and the Ute Indians finally is being fulfilled.

Starting next year, the Southern Ute Tribe, which has its offices in Ignacio, will exercise its rights under the 1874 Brunot Agreement to hunt under tribal regulation on non-reservation land in southwest Colorado.

The area, which covers nearly 4 million acres, originally was part of the Ute reservation delineated in 1868 that covered most of the western third of Colorado.  The region was carved out of the reservation in 1874 and opened to settlement and mining.

The region is known as the Brunot Area and stretches roughly from near Creede on the east to just west of Cortez and from Bayfield on the south to near Ridgway on the north.

The Brunot Agreement gave the Southern Utes and other Ute tribes rights to hunt on the lands “so long as the game lasts and the Indians are at peace with the white people.”

The Ute Mountain Utes have exercised their hunting rights since 1978.

“Not all the Ute bands signed the Brunot Agreement,” said Tony Gurzick, assistant Southwest Region manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “In 1978, the Ute Mountain Utes sued the state to hunt in the Brunot Area.”

Approximately 227 Ute Mountain Utes receive a tribal hunting permit each year, said Gurzick. The permits, which are non-transferable, allow each hunter to harvest a buck and doe deer and a cow and bull elk.

“The harvest is about 100 animals a year,” Gurzick said, referring to notes supplied by the Ute Mountain Ute tribe.

The Southern Utes initially opted not to pursue their hunting rights in 1972, focusing instead on developing a wildlife-management program on their reservation.

Since then, the program has been highly successful, said Steve Whiteman, director of the tribe’s wildlife program.

“We have tremendous game resources on the reservation already and arguably the best trophy hunting in Colorado that occurs on a reservation,” Whiteman said. “In many cases, tribal members really can go out their back door to find the animals with minimal effort.”

The Southern Ute Reservation also has tremendous natural resources, including natural gas, and several decades of development have brought the tribe enough money to afford developing an advanced wildlife program.

Among other research, the tribe cooperates in mule deer studies with the Colorado Division of Wildlife and mountain lion research with the University of Wyoming.

“Wildlife management and natural resource management and protection is a really top priority for the tribe,” Whiteman said. “It reflects in how they support their wildlife.”

In November, 2006, tribal representatives announced to the Colorado Wildlife Commission the tribe’s intent to exercise its Brunot rights.

“From 1972 to 2006 we shared information, just as we do with other states and wildlife agencies,” Gurzick said. “When they announced their interest in exercising their Brunot rights, we started looking for a win-win situation for everyone and wildlife and wildlife management.”

In September, the DOW and the tribe signed a memorandum of understanding saying the tribe “will adopt regulations similar to what the Division and other states and tribes use,” Gurzick said.

While most of the final details haven’t been decided, it’s expected the Southern Utes will continue issuing the four-in-one deer and elk license to any tribal member who applies.

That’s historically been about 225 tribal members each year, Whiteman said.

But given the ease of hunting on the reservation, he expects about half of those actually will use the Brunot Area.

“When you look a the number of hunters going in the Brunot Area, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to (non-Indian) hunters,” Whiteman said.

There is some concern about hunting bighorn sheep, mountain goat and moose, both Gurzick and Whiteman noted.

These licenses are very coveted and limited in number and for most hunters are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The agreement says the tribe will get 5 percent of the licenses (or a minimum of one license) issued for those three species, Gurzick said.

“For example, if in the Brunot Area we have 10 bighorn sheep tags, the tribe would get one,” Gurzick said.

Tribal regulations do not allow any license to be transferred or sold, Whiteman said.

“You won’t be seeing any of these licenses on e-Bay,” he promised.

Gurzick said the tribal licenses will not subtract from the number of licenses the state issues.

“We aren’t giving them a license. They are a sovereign nation with hunting rights guaranteed them by the federal government,” Gurzick said.

Should concern develop over harvest numbers or population health, the state and the tribe will consult
on hunting management, Gurzick and Whiteman said.

Other basic requirements and limitations, such as wearing blaze orange, not shooting from vehicles or roadways and permission to trespass on private lands, will apply, Gurzick said.

One difference may be hunting seasons.

While the Ute Mountain Utes “typically hunt in the fall,” said Gurzick, “the agreement with (them) doesn’t limit them to that. They can hunt (at other times) for religious, ceremonial and subsistence purposes.”

Gurzick said the Ute Mountain Utes conduct about 12 short-duration big-game hunting seasons, beginning in the late summer about the same time as the state’s archery season.

The Ute Mountain Utes do not hunt bears for religious and cultural reasons, Gurzick said.

Several meetings have been scheduled around the state to provide information on the Brunot Area hunting agreement.

One is set for 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn, 1391 Townsend Ave., Montrose.

Whiteman emphasized the meetings are not public review of the agreement.

“These are really meant to be informative because the agreement is a done deal,” he said. “We are not here to get comment on how it might be changed.”

He said the agreement is as much about protecting some long-standing rights as it is about hunting.

“Although it’s important to the tribal members to have this hunting area restored to them, this equally is about protecting those treaty rights,” Whiteman said. “As important as it is to having access to animals, it’s also very much about protecting our tribal rights.”


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