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An article recently appeared in newspapers across the state (Feb. 25 Gazette) regarding an incident that occurred in September of 2014 in north central Montana. A group of armed individuals forcibly detained state Game Warden Dirk Paulsen for more than 5-1/2 hours on a public country road in Blaine County, outside the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.

^pThe Tribal Business Committee had issued an order that no Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel may travel through or on lands owned by or associated with the tribes. This, a result of wildlife citations issued to tribal members who had illegally killed elk on Bureau of Land Management — not submarginal or reservation — lands in the vicinity. The animals taken were trophy Missouri Breaks elk. The acts would have been illegal regardless of who pulled the trigger.^p

^pThe group forcibly detained Paulsen, attempting numerous times to disarm him. Had it not been for Paulsen’s cool head and professionalism, the outcome of this situation would undoubtedly have been tragic. Paulsen was finally “allowed” to leave the scene and later personally issued a citation by tribal law enforcement for trespassing on a public, county road.^p

Excellent warden

^pThe Attorney General’s Office investigated and produced an extensive report that, to date, hasn’t been acted upon. Yet, due to what appears to be nothing more than purely political reasons, Paulsen’s unlawful detainment has languished in the hands of the attorney general, the governor’s office and FWP administrators. After almost two years, they continue to allow the issues to simmer, unable to separate submarginal lands jurisdiction from clearly illegal acts. They boiled up again recently and, as a result Paulsen, was ordered by FWP not to set foot on or travel through tribal lands of the Fort Belknap Reservation. Ostensibly, this order was for his “personal safety” but it also included a caveat that his failure to comply with the order could result in disciplinary action.

In the incident, Paulsen’s civil rights were violated, as were many state and federal laws — interfering with an officer of the law, coercion, unlawful restraint and a host of others that would constitute kidnapping by any other standard. Had this act been perpetrated by anyone else, they would be in jail. Yet, no action has been taken. Instead, Paulsen has been vilified, the scapegoat of bureaucratic and political indolence and bungling. All this when he, in fact, is the victim. His excellent record of working with tribal members and personal friendships and affiliations with the community are ignored and Paulsen is condemned a racist because he did his duty: investigating and citing people who willfully and knowingly violated state fish and game laws on public, nontribal lands.

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Paulsen was and is doing the job that we have entrusted him to do on behalf of all the people of Montana: protect and enhance our wild resources. That these crimes against him have been ignored is absolutely wrong. No Montanan — regardless of affiliation — is above the law. And allowing armed individuals to a take the law into their own hands in a fashion not unlike what recently occurred in Burns, Ore., and do so with impunity is unconscionable.^p

Stop playing politics

^pOn behalf of sportsmen and women and all Montanans, we condemn the treatment of Paulsen. We urge in the strongest terms that the governor, attorney general and FWP administration stop playing politics, beating around the bush, and allowing these issues to fester. They need to voice strong support for Paulsen in both words and deeds.^p

^pThe state also must finally act to resolve jurisdictional issues with the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine Tribes. Working relationships with other tribes in Montana, most notably the Confederated Salish and Kootenai, are in place that respect state and tribal rights and sovereignty while also protecting our precious wildlife resources. Fort Belknap should be no exception.^p

^pTo continue to do nothing is to sidestep the responsibility of upholding the laws of the state, seriously diminishes the value of our wild resources and in essence, officially sanctions the illegal actions that took place on that county road in 2014.^p

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Joe Perry, of Conrad, wrote this commentary in collaboration with his fellow leaders of the Montana Sportsmen Alliance: John Borgreen, of Great Falls; Sam Milodragovich, of Butte; Steve Schindler, of Glasgow; J.W. Westman, of Park City; Robert Wood, of Hamilton; and Jeff Herbert, of Helena.

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