A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden was detained by Fort Belknap tribal officers Saturday for 5½ hours and threatened with a citation for criminal trespass and the impoundment of his state vehicle before the heated incident was defused.
“They did detain for some time one of our wardens,” said Mike Volesky, FWP’s deputy director, on Monday. “There was no citation issued on site, but they spoke of citing that officer for trespass.”
Volesky said the tribal officers blocked the warden’s truck while the discussions took place and also called a tow truck to impound the warden’s state vehicle. A Blaine County Sheriff’s deputy also responded to the incident, some of which may have been captured by vehicle dashboard cameras.
Fort Belknap Indian Community Council president Mark Azure said the FWP warden was cited for criminal trespass, but added that he didn’t have time to discuss the incident more thoroughly.
The matter has been turned over to the Montana Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, according to Blaine County Sheriff Glenn Huestis.
“I just felt this involved a state officer, so I would turn it over to them,” Huestis said.
The incident did not occur on reservation lands, Huestis said, but was instead near the junction of Timber Ridge (also shown on some maps as Barney Olson Road) and Hays roads, about 12 miles west of the small tribal community of Hays.
Region 6 warden Dirk Paulsen, of Chinook, was patrolling in the area at about 8 a.m. Saturday when his vehicle was blocked by vehicles driven by tribal members. The tribal officers cited a resolution passed by the tribal council last October as the reason for the stop, Volesky said.
A copy of the resolution reads in part: “ … that State Fish and Game access to and across Tribal lands, whether in fee or trust, shall be deemed denied, unless authorized.”
Passage of the issue seems to have been triggered by what the resolution calls “ongoing actions by the Fish and Game Officers of the State of Montana to ignore the status of Reservation lands and hunting rights in treaty areas and to target enrolled members of the Tribes with focused enforcement activities.”
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“This is a long-standing issue on sub-marginal lands and access to those lands through other state lands,” Volesky said. “Folks have gotten together to sort those things out.”
Volesky said he contacted Azure during the standoff, and Azure told him that “if there was a point to be made, it had been made.”
He said that some members of the tribe are interpreting the resolution to require any nontribal member to receive a permit from the tribe to travel across tribal lands, even on public county roads.
“It appears to be that, but we dispute that,” Volesky said.
FWP and tribal officials already had a meeting scheduled for Wednesday. The jurisdictional dispute will be added to that agenda, Volesky said.
Region 6 FWP warden Capt. Mike Herman, of Glasgow, said the department had been meeting with tribal officials during the past year to try and work out the disagreement.
“It came on their opening day of their rifle season, which was maybe what ticked the bomb off,” Herman said.
Paulsen has been an FWP warden for seven years. During the past three years he has investigated four incidents of elk poaching near where he was stopped by tribal officials.
In 2009 he was nominated for the Warden Excellence Award after he worked on a case that resulted in the conviction of several members of a Minnesota family on charges of illegal baiting of big-game animals, hunting without licenses and/or permits, outfitting and other wildlife-related crimes in the Malta area.
The Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is home to the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine tribes. Fort Belknap Indian Reservation is located 40 miles south of the Canadian border and 20 miles north of the Missouri River. It is the fourth largest reservation in Montana with 7,000 enrolled members. Montana tribes have jurisdiction over game management on their lands with separate licenses and different regulations than the state.