Friday, March 24, 2017

A Fight Over A Bison Herd In Montana Sets Retired Rangers Against Tribes


It may have been the first attempt to save the wild bison. In the 1870s, Little Falcon Robe of the Pend d’Oreille tribe in Montana, traveled east on a hunting trip, and at the tribal council’s request brought live bison home to the Flathead valley. The plains were once home to up to 30 million bison, but settlers traveling westward had nearly exterminated those vast herds. Little Falcon Robe brought back six calves, the story goes, which then multiplied to a few hundred that roamed the valley near the Flathead Lake and River. Little Falcon Robe’s father first dreamed of bringing back the bison. “In his visions he saw that the bison was becoming less and less,” Tom McDonald, manager of a wildlife division of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe which includes the Pend d’Oreille, told BuzzFeed News. “A substantial herd was growing on the reservation about the late 1890s.” More than a century later, the Flathead Reservation is home to the Salish and Kootenai, and the 18,800-acre National Bison Range, one the last refuges for bison in North America. Since 2004 the US Fish and Wildlife Service has partnered with the tribes to maintain the range, carved out of the reservation in 1908. Last year, the agency proposed restoring the bison range to the reservation, and turning over management exclusively to the tribes. “This is potentially a really beautiful example of a tribe that is taking over a federal function that it is better situated than the federal government to run,” Kevin Washburn, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, who was Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior until 2015. Tribes typically face an uphill battle trying to claim reservation land that is taken over by the US government. So the offer from the Fish and Wildlife Service was significant. “The tribes were pleasantly surprised by the idea,” Brian Upton, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ attorney, told BuzzFeed News. But one group of retired range managers is seeking to block such a shift. In a lawsuit against the US Fish and Wildlife Service, they claim that such a transfer violates federal law. The Association of Retired Fish and Wildlife Service Employees backed PEER up. In a letter to agency director Dan Ashe, the association board chair said that such a move would be a “slippery-slope” giving away land to states or companies wholesale, and set a bad precedent. But other conservation groups, ones who generally oppose ceding any public land to companies, states, or tribes, defend the proposal to involve the Salish and Kootenai. “Without a doubt, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are strongly committed to bison conservation and have obviously a deep rich history and connection with bison,” Matt Skoglund of the Natural Resources Defense Council, who works with the 5,000-strong bison herd in Yellowstone National Park, told BuzzFeed News...more

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