Whale hunt a go for Makah Nation
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MONDAY, JULY 16, 2001

After being forced to delay their centuries-old tradition for more than a year, whale hunting families from the Makah Nation of Washington could be back on the waters as early as next month thanks to a final environmental assessment released on Friday.

Before that happens the federal government and the tribe have to finalize a cooperative agreement on how the hunt will be conducted, a process officials expect to move quickly. But for now, the tribe is welcoming the news as affirmation of a cultural heritage which has come under fire by animal-rights activists.

In response to a challenge by activists and former Congressman Jack Metcalf, the tribe last summer was dealt a setback when an appeals court ruled the government improperly approved the previous cooperative plan. The ruling gave hope to Makah opponents who believed the government would change its mind when it took another look at the hunt.

But in a victory for treaty rights, the National Marine Fisheries Service has signed off on an assessment that dramatically expands the whale hunt. Instead of being restricted to the summer season, the tribe can now hunt year round.

Additionally, the tribe can hunt in a larger geographical region than previously approved. In either case, the tribe can kill up to five whales a year or strike seven, whichever comes first.

The new conditions, said the government, support the tribe's treaty rights and ensure protection of the gray whale. The species once faced demise but was taken off the endangered species list in 1994.

The conditions also appear to be a setback for the activists who mounted last year's court challenge. The new assessment, said NMFS spokesperson Brian Gorman, "is much more liberal than the one they started with, based principally on the unequivocal treaty right of the Makahs to hunt gray whales."

But a wildlife biologist for the Fund for Animals and Australians for Animals -- who were part of the Metcalf lawsuit -- discounted the suggestion that their strategy has backfired. And although NMFS officials denied any top-level members of the Bush administration were directly involved, D.J. Schubert said last week's action proves the President is a foe to the environment.

"This decision by the Bush administration is absolutely outrageous," said Schubert, who is based in Arizona. "This is not an administration who is at all sympathetic to environmental protection issues."

Schubert said his clients will be considering their options in response to the decision. A lawsuit isn't out of the question, he said, either to challenge the new assessment or the denial of the group's petition to put the gray whale back on the endangered species list.

The NMFS last month rejected the group's petition, citing lack of evidence for a threat to the whale. Federal scientists estimate the gray whale population at about 26,000.

"The petition was clearly an attempt to deal with the whaling issue than to address an endangered species issue," said Gorman. "To suggest that gray whales need Endangered Species Act protection is plain ludicrous."

After resuming the practice after a more than 70-year hiatus, the tribe has successfully hunted just one whale. In May 1999, hunters killed a whale as television and Internet audiences watched.

Get Whale Hunt Documents:
Makah Whaling Environmental Assessment (NMFS)

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Makah Whale Hunt (A Top Story of 1999)

Relevant Links:
The Makah Nation -

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