Federal judge shoots down treaty challenge
Facebook Twitter Email

A federal judge dealt a blow to several animal-rights groups on Thursday, dismissing their challenge to the treaty rights of a Washington tribe.

U.S. District Judge Franklin Burgess upheld federal approval of the Makah Nation's controversial whale hunt. He said an environmental assessment did not violate the law, as the Fund For Animals, the Humane Society and other plaintiffs charged.

The ruling could be appealed but it effectively clears legal impediments to the tribe's traditional practice. Whale hunting was secured in an 1855 treaty, the only such agreement in the United States to reserve the right.

The tribe stopped whaling, however, in the early 1900s in response to worldwide decimation of the gray whale. Its numbers dwindled due to commercial exploitation.

The gray whale rebounded and was eventually taken off the endangered species list in 1993. Soon after, the tribe informed the federal government that it would resume the long-dormant hunt, which the U.S. has consistently supported both domestically and internationally.

"Congress has not abrogated the Makah's reserved hunting rights," the government's request for summary judgment, which Burgess granted, stated.

The animal rights groups had alleged numerous flaws in the hunt, including a claim that the gray whale population was not healthy. Burgess rejected this argument in light of numbers which show about 26,000 of the animal.

Despite the high numbers, the Makah Nation is bound by a quota to restrict hunting. Up to 20 whales can be taken from 2003 to 2007 under limits imposed by the International Whaling Commission.

So far, the tribe's only successful kill was in 1999.

The Bush administration has made Native whaling a top policy issue, officials in the Departments of Interior, State and Commerce said. A similar quota request for Alaska Native subsistence hunting is currently under heavy debate amid threats by Japan against approval.

A government-wide working group was established this summer to address the issue. Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb is the Interior's main representative.

Get the Decision:
Andersen v. Evans (8/8)

Recent Court Pleadings:
Motion for Summary Judgment (4/29) | Opposition (5/20) | Tribe in Support (5/23) | Response to Opposition (6/4)

Relevant Documents:
Makah Whaling Environmental Assessment (NMFS)

Relevant Links:
The Makah Nation -

Related Stories:
Bush administration pledges whaling support (6/10)
Makah whaling decision appealed (5/31)
Makah whaling quota approved (5/24)
Groups appeal to stop Makah whale hunt (5/22)
Court won't halt Makah whale hunt (5/20)
Famed Makah captain quits whaling (5/16)
Court halts pending Makah whale hunt (5/6)
Halt to Makah whale hunt sought (5/2)
Makah whaling challenged (4/16)
Tribe not bankrolling whale hunt (4/15)
Makah whale hunt on again (3/29)
Appeals court rejects Makah 'diplomacy' (3/6)
Makah gearing up for whale hunting (1/21)
Groups don't want tribe to have boat (1/17)
Suit against whale hunt filed again (1/11)