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Bison Range management change up for public comment

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Tribal leaders have written draft legislation would lays out how the refuge would be managed through a federal trust. (MTN News photo) Tribal leaders have written draft legislation would lays out how the refuge would be managed through a federal trust. (MTN News photo)
PABLO -

Leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are about to find out what the public thinks of a proposed change which would have the tribe take responsibility for managing the National Bison Range.

This isn't the first time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has looked at modifying the management structure of the National Bison Range at Moise.

A decade ago, the idea of having CSKT personnel more heavily involved in day-to-day operations was challenged, and overturned in court. But the multi-agency approach to managing bison -- both on the range and in Montana as a whole -- has continued to draw attention from a variety of leaders.

USFWS caught the tribe by surprise earlier this year when it suggested it may be time for the entire refuge to become CSKT's responsibility. Since then, tribal leaders have written draft legislation would lays out how the refuge would be managed through a federal trust, setting standards for continued conservation of both the bison herds, and the other forms of wildlife which call the refuge home. 

The legislation also ensures continued public access. The land itself will remain in federal ownership, with the federal government acting in trust, using the same structure already used for other reservation lands.

The legislation also contains language explicitly stating the change can't be used as a precedent for other transfers, that it pertains specifically to the National Bison Range. 

Tribal attorneys will be on hand Tuesday evening to explain the draft legislation and ask questions along with CSKT wildlife managers. Additionally, people will have a chance to submit their comments on the management change. The tribe is also encouraging public comments at a special website.

Tuesday's hearing runs from 7 pm. to 9 p.m. at the Johnny Arlee and Victor Charlo Theater in Pablo, on the Salish Kootenai College campus. The public comment period on the proposal has been extended to noon on July 15. 

RELATED: Citizens' group files suit to block Bison Range management change

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