National Bison Range may move toward tribal management - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

National Bison Range may move toward tribal management

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Leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes say a proposal from the federal government to take over full management of the National Bison Range is a complete surprise, but CSKT leadership says they are ready for the chance.

"People have asked me, 'how did this come about?  What did the tribes do?'  I don't know!” laughed tribal spokesperson Robert McDonald. "But we're not going to question it!"

It's been nearly 110 years since the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes held ownership over the land encompassing the National Bison Range, but a surprise letter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service suggests the tribe could take a more complete role in management. 

McDonald said they heard the news on Feb. 5, "and it was a pleasant surprise!  Something we look forward to exploring more details about and seeing how this unfolds,” he told MTN News

"This is land within our reservation wholly; this is land that we've had a connection to for a long time, never lost that connection.  To return it to its original owner, to return the animals to their original caretakers is something we're excited about looking into further," McDonald continued.

He says the tribe still has a spiritual connection to the few hundred bison grazing on the 18,000 acre range at Moiese. 

"The herd out there now has a connection to a herd that was maintained and protected by a tribal member, so the ancestors of the herd there today links back to original tribal management,” he explained.  “We pride ourselves on animal management, but we've had a long, long connection with the bison out there."

Some early critics of the move say the tribes may lack the skills necessary to manage the range. McDonald says such concerns are unnecessary, noting the tribes' work in reintroducing trumpeter swans and winning the National Government Conservation award three years ago.

But before management trades hands, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Congress must approve this transfer before it can be finalized, and that may take a number of years.  Still, tribal leadership says they are eager to get the ball rolling on this deal.

The tribe has been involved in the operation of the Bison Range in years past, although that has been challenged through lawsuits.

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