Ruling against its earlier judgment, the Interior Department has decided to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue managing the National Bison Range.
Under the previous administration, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) was in talks to assume management. Indeed, January 18, 2017, the USFWS stated in the Federal Register its preferred alternative would be for management to transfer over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, according to the Missoulian, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, appointed by the Trump Administration, has decided to reverse itself and make a case for why the Range should stay under USFWS management:
On April 12, Zinke announced his intention to revisit that transfer plan and restart the Bison Range’s comprehensive conservation plan. Wednesday’s announcement expanded on that, noting that the Pablo, Lost Trail and Ninepipe national wildlife refuges just north of the Bison Range would also get new comprehensive conservation plans. Those three federal bird refuges are part of the National Bison Range Complex.
CSKT leaders acknowledged Zinke’s decision on Wednesday afternoon, but did not elaborate on how the change would affect their intentions for the Bison Range.
“While the Tribes continue to believe that restoration is an elegant solution to the question of National Bison Range management, and would continue federal ownership of the land, we look forward to further discussions with Secretary Zinke and the Service regarding our common interests in natural resources stewardship,” the CSKT leaders wrote in an email. “We appreciate the secretary’s continued interest in exploring tribal management of the Bison Range, particularly in light of potential budget reductions that may be faced by the National Wildlife Refuge System.”
CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald said on Wednesday the bird refuges were not part of any discussions over management of the Bison Range.
The Bison Range receives about 200,000 visitors a year, with an estimated annual economic impact of $13 million to the surrounding community. Its annual budget is about 20 percent below where it was six years ago, according to the National Wildlife Refuge Association, resulting in reduced visitor center hours and staff cuts.
The new comprehensive conservation plan determines the site’s management goals and visitor recreation activities for the next 15 years. Interior officials said the plan development would involve many stakeholders and options, including “opportunities for the CSKT to participate in the future management of the Range.”
Tribal officials will be invited to be a cooperating agency in the plan development reflecting “their wildlife conservation experience and expertise, (and) cultural, historical, and geographic connection to these lands.”
The USFWS will hold a 30-day public comment period for its conservation plan. Between now and June 19, you may submit comments via email to Scoping@NPR@fws.gov or by mail/hand to the following address:
Toni Griffin, Refuge Planner
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, CO 80228