Menominee Forestry

From Encyclopedia of Wisconsin Environmental History
Jump to navigation Jump to search

For centuries, the Menominee Tribe has practiced traditional sustainable forestry. For a certain period in US history they had an agreement with the federal government known as the LaFollette Act, which stipulated how those practices would be maintained in relation to the reserved land allocated to them by previous treaties.

Menominee Forestry Practices

This article focuses on the Menominee’s relationship with the local and federal governments and their sustainable practices in regards to forestry. Historical background and context will be described regarding Menominee forestry practices and traditions. By describing the LaFollette Act and its history, this essay will set the ground work for understanding how the idea of wilderness during the period of Allotment, when much of the country was romanticizing wilderness, was in fact being managed with a long history of land practices and preservation by the Menominee tribes. It will discuss the distinct phases of recognition the tribe went through both prior to the Allotment (1885-1934), during Reorganization (1934-1954), during Termination (1954-1972), and finally culminating in Self-determination from 1972-present as described by Ronald Trosper in his essay Indigenous Influences on Forest Management on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

For over 10,000 years the Menominee tribe has resided in what is now the state of Wisconsin encompassing lands that numbered nearly 10 million acres. [1] However, Wisconsin was not the only place bands of the tribe could be found. As the populations of the tribe grew they slowly expanded into to such areas as the quad cities near Illinois and Iowa border, near the Mississippi River, and even in parts of Minnesota. Much of this land was rich in many natural resources which the Menominee tribe was dependent on to survive and to sustain life. David Beck describes the history of the European trade was already affecting the Menominee material culture when the first European explorer Jean Nicolet came to Green Bay in 1630. [2]Later, French fur traders and Jesuit missionaries brought ravaging diseases. The British would displace the French and continue much of the rich traditions of the fur trade until the Americans took over the fort of Green Bay in 1815. As Beck describes this, it “began an all assault on the Menominee political, economic, social, and spiritual realms that left the tribal nation weakened and reeling.” Much of the land was coveted by early American lumber barons who saw the rich Menominee forest as a way to become incredibly wealthy. After the lands were depleted of there forests they were sold to farmers who would work the land. To make this process easier for those desiring the lands for profit, the federal government forced the Menominee tribe into a number of treaties, two of which would define the current reservation as it is seen today, which were signed in 1848 and 1854. As Beck further describes, the treaties were negotiated by U.S. commissioners in bad faith using bribery, threats, and even at times, military force.[3]

By the 1870s some of the reserved lands which occupied vast amounts of forest were not only being looked at by lumber barons, but also with intensification and longing from the federal government. There was quite a lot money to be made from the practice of logging as had already been demonstrated by the ferocity with which denuding had taken place. According to an account by David Beck by 1873 loggers had cut approximately 20 billion of an original 129.4 billion feet of Wisconsin white pine. By 1871 congress had authorized the sale of six of the remaining ten townships.[4] In response to this the tribe sent a delegation to Washington which included legal council as well as interpreters. The tribe drafted a petition which in short stated they were unwilling to part with any land allocated within the 1854 treaty and wished to benefit from all of the proceeds from possible timber sales.[5] This of course meant that the tribe would cut the timber and benefit from the proceeds directly. This went unchallenged until the Supreme Court case of the United States vs Cook which ruled that the: “The Indians having only a right of occupancy in the lands, the presumption is against their authority to cut and sell the timber. Every purchaser from them is charged with notice of this presumption. To maintain his title, it is incumbent on him to show that the timber was rightfully severed from the land.”[6] This decision of course essentially halted any further timber sales that could legally take place commercially by the Menominee tribe. However, this did not mean the tribe did not negotiate by convincing cutting and sales were to establish farms. It would not be until 1908 when the LaFollette Act permitted the tribe to have a saw mill on the reservation and the tribe started to practice sustained-yield management of its forest. [7]

Lawsuit and Termination of Tribal Status

What were some of the implications of the LaFollete Act in allowing the Menominee Indians to continue sustainable forestry?

The LeFollette Act allowed the Menominee tribe to develop a well managed logging practice that assisted them in becoming one of the most self-sufficient tribes in the United States with a capital invest during this period totaling over $1.5 billion with a $10 billion deposit in the US treasury and an efficacious functioning government.[8]

The Menominee were required by the 1908 LaFollett Act to be trained to run the mill and were frequently passed up for leadership positions. The tribe’s attorney had warned the Menominee that the government was using tribal interference in the government’s running of Menominee affairs as an excuse for federal mismanagement in the court claims. The tribe proposed an amendment to the LaFollett Act that would enable the tribe to managed the mill themselves over a ten year period under the supervision of the secretary of the interior and if successful, be allowed to take sole management responsibility. As Beck points out this did not mean that the Menomonee’s had any interest in dissolving the federal government of its trust responsibilities. In June of 1953 federal government coerced the tribe with its own money to accept termination or they would withhold claims money. This would begin a series of threats that would culminate in the federal government terminating the tribe.[9]

Letter verifying mismanagement. Source: [Cofrin Library ]


The Menominee restorations act was signed in 1973 and set forth to reverse termination and issued a new age of self determination for the tribe. On April 22, 1975 the secretary of the interior approved a management plan for the Menominee tribe. They both had recognized that termination had repealed the 1908 LaFollett Act and the 1934 Amendment and that they remained so even after restoration. According to Congress the Management plan was to give maximum self determination to the tribe. This plan allowed for the tribal enterprise to manage, forest, manufacture, market, sell and distribute timber and timber related products.[10]

A Populated Wilderness

What are some of the problems which arise when discussing wilderness in relationship to the Menominee history of land use and perseveration in what we tend to call wilderness areas or pristine places?

The Menominee Tribe has been managing the forest as sustainable way of producing an income for many years. They have competed with lumber companies in the early part of the 19th and 20th century. They faced difficulty in maintaining sovereignty over the reserved lands they sought to product not only as a natural place, but also as a life sustaining practice.


  1. Ronald Trosper, Indigenous Influence on Forest Management on the Menominee Indian Reservation (Vancouver: University of British Columbia), 2007, p. 1-2, accessed April, 2016.
  2. David Beck, The Struggle for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005) xxii-xxiii.
  3. David Beck, The Struggle for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005) xxiv-xxv.
  4. David Beck, The Struggle for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005) 23.
  5. Ibid, 24
  6. U.S. Supreme court Case United States v.Cook, 86 U.S. 19 Wall. 591 (1873) Accessed on April 23, 2016.
  7. Ronald Trosper, Indigenous Influence on Forest Management on the Menominee Indian Reservation (Vancouver: University of British Columbia), 2007, p. 1-2, accessed April, 2016.
  8. Ryan Baumtrog, Steven Cook, and Dennis Dressing, "The Unmet Needs of the Menominee Nation: Challenges and Opportunites," (Madison: University of Wisconsin), 2008.
  9. David Beck, The Struggle for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005) 139-140.
  10. David Beck, The Struggle for Self-Determination (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005) 174-175.

Additional Published Resources

Article History

Format: [[username1]] (YY-MM-DD); [[username2]] (YY-MM-DD); [[username3]] (YY-MM-DD)
For example: voelkerd (2015-10-12)