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National Wildlife Federation applauds Red Lake Nation

The Red Lake Nation and National Wildlife Federation have formed a partnership focused on balancing ecological science, traditional culture and economic sustainability of the tribe's wildlife resources.

In a report published Thursday by NWF at, the member-supported wildlife advocacy and educational organization said the band "serves as a model for managing tribal, private and public lands across the nation."

NWF Tribal Lands Director Steve Torbit said they are a great example of how fish and wildlife resources can be protected and used to enhance the economy. He was joined by Director of Red Lake Department of Natural Resources Al Pemberton and Red Lake DNR Administrator David Conner in a teleconference Thursday.

Pemberton, who is also the Redby representative to the Red Lake Tribal Council, offered the walleye recovery program as an example. He said the Red Lake commercial fishery opened in 1917 and at one time employed more than 700 people. When stocks crashed in the mid-1990s due to over fishing, the band voted to close what had been the largest and longest continuously operated freshwater fishery in the country.

"Basically, the fishermen voted themselves out of work," Pemberton said.

He said they received no help from the federal government in the way of buyout for gear or boats and no retraining. However, through a 1999 partnership with the Minnesota DNR, the band began a recovery project. Other members of the recovery team were the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the University of Minnesota.

"The walleye recovery was nothing short of remarkable," Pemberton said. "This success story has received national attention."

As a result, he said, Red Lake is a nominee for the Honoring Nations Award from the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. The awards spotlight tribal government programs and initiatives. Honorees serve as sources of knowledge and inspiration throughout Indian Country and beyond.

Pemberton said future walleye catch will be based on sustaining the resource. Conner said a commercial fishery could also reopen with harvests kept at sustainable walleye population levels. For example, the limit for this year is 108,000 pounds of walleye from the state's portion of Red Lake and 550,000 pounds from the tribal portion. He said he expects the limits for 2007 to be higher, and the tribal method of capture, this year by hook and line only, could become any means of taking fish.

Because of the success, Connor said the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources has asked Red Lake to advise the province in developing a sustainable plan for the walleye fishery on Lake Nipissing.

Conner said Red Lake's commercial timber harvest also balances conservation with economic needs. Forests are cut with focus on meeting the needs of wildlife as well as timber sales. Red Lake also owns one of the largest tribal tree nurseries in the country, he said, and expansion is planned.

He noted the large wild rice farms west of the reservation, an economic resource, also serve as habitat and food plots.