This poses an interesting dilemma for Zinke, who has said he is pro-Native American but anti-transfer. Making this even juicier is that the range was established by Teddy Roosevelt, Zinke's hero on conservation.
Will he be truly pro-Native American and transfer the lands? That would seem to violate his anti-transfer stance. But if he doesn't transfer, he would have failed to recognize the professionalism, talents and other qualities of the tribe.
It would appear that Zinke has decided against the Native Americans and sided with the enviros, the establishment and other retention-at-all-cost types, as the Missoulian reports:
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has reversed course on plans to hand management of the National Bison Range to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. His move casts doubt on the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ plans to take control of the wildlife sanctuary in the middle of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Saying he was committed to not selling or transferring public land, Zinke said Wednesday that the tribes “would play a pivotal role in our discussions about the best path forward.” “I took a hard look at the current proposal suggesting a new direction for the National Bison Range and assessed what this would mean for Montana and the nation,” Zinke said in an email to the Missoulian. “As Secretary, my job is to look 100 years forward at all of Interior's resources. I recognize the Bison Range is a critical part of our past, present and future, which is why I have changed course.”
Zinke believes that only the all-knowing feds can peer 100 years into the future and know what's best for the bison and the Native Americans. Of course 100 years ago federal policy didn't recognize some Native Americans as even being a U.S. Citizen. It wasn't until 1924 that all Native Americans were so recognized. And as late as 1914 some Apaches were still being held as prisoners of war. But Zinke thinks these same feds will make wise choices way into the future.
And it turns out this wasn't really a land transfer at all:
Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation office in Missoula was a long-time supporter of the transfer. While he wanted to get more details about how Zinke’s course-correction would work, he said he disagreed with the idea it was a transfer or sale of public land. “This would be a real step backward if the Department of Interior reverses 20 years of work,” France said. “The most recent proposal was to turn management to the Salish and Kootenai Tribes, but transfer ownership to the BIA to hold in trust. That’s not divesting public lands at all.”
Surely Zinke understands this, and that means he's opposed to even the appearance or hint of a transfer. Since the feds would retain ownership, one must ask, "Why do they so fear tribal or local management?" Are they that afraid that it just might work?
We're living in a crazy world where Obama was in favor of transferring management to the Tribe, a Democrat Senator was helping the tribes draft the legislation to accomplish this, and a Republican administration has put the kibosh to the whole thing, siding instead with advocates of central planning. Somebody slap me!