Thursday, May 20, 2010

Minnesota Fishing Season

I heard two very interesting stories about Minnesota geography -- environmental and political -- during the week following our celebration of Minnesota Day. The stories ran on NPR's All Things Considered two days after the anniversary of Minnesota statehood (which they did not mention) and two days before the opening of fishing season, which apparently is much more important to many Minnesotans. In "Biggest in Decades," former fishing guide John Wetrosky explains the connections among the pace of spring warming and the quantity and spatial clustering of walleye bass and trout.

In "Battle over Fishing," Tom Roberston reports on a controversy between the state of Minnesota and Native Americans of the Leech Lake and White Earth Ojibwe, some of whom plan to fish a day ahead of the season opener. On one level, this is a story about the sovereignty of Native American nations over natural resources and the degree to which this is accepted by non-native Minnesotans. 

On another level, however, the second story illustrates another, broadly applicable lesson about land rights. Although we tend to think of property rights as simple and complete, they are far from it. The rights to land are multiple, and they do not all transfer with deeds and titles. For example, in Texas, almost nobody owns the mineral rights under their houses, farms, or businesses; those rights were separated long ago. Similarly, no private land owner controls the right to fly over his or her property; those rights were separated by the courts in the early days of aviation. Similarly, some Ojibwe are making the claim that the treaty in which they surrendered land to Minnesota did not transfer the fishing rights to the state. Therefore, they claim, the right to fish when and where they want is retained by the Ojibwe, and some of them intended to exercise that right by fishing a day early.

The controversy is described in more detail -- with the maps shown above -- in "Minnesota Chippewa Rally for Rights" by Chris Niskanen of Pioneer Press in Minnesota. Read the "comments" section on the newspaper web site to see a wide range of opinion regarding the validity and interpretation of such treaties.

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