Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is taking a different direction, favoring the idea of having the federal government retain full management of the National Bison Range.
Leaders of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been working on plans to assume responsibility for the National Bison Range near Moiese after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first floated the idea of management transfer a year ago. The tribe had even gone so far as to have public hearings and work up draft legislation and notes continued support for the idea.
But on Wednesday, Zinke appeared to have scrapped that concept. The Flathead Beacon quotes the Interior Secretary as saying keeping the National Bison Range in federal hands is part of his "steadfast commitment" to not transfer or sell any public lands.
The tribe issued a statement saying Zinke called CSKT Chairman Vernon Finley to say he was "shifting his focus". The tribe says it recognizes Zinke has a "difficult balancing act" to managing "vast resources with limited budgets."
The statement says the tribes are "excited to work with the Secretary and a fellow Montanan" to make "shared management goals a reality". The tribe has participated in operations in recent years.
Finley says the tribes' "stewardship interests" at the National Bison Range "remain" and he looks "forward to continued discussions with Secretary Zinke."
Below is the full text of the CSKT letter:
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recently contacted Vernon Finley, the Chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, to advise that the Interior Department, through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is shifting its focus to exploring Tribal management of the National Bison Range. Certainly, the Tribes recognize the difficult balancing act facing Secretary Zinke in managing vast resources with limited budgets.
The Tribes have worked hard for decades to participate in management at the Bison Range and are excited to work with the Secretary and fellow Montanan, Ryan Zinke to make our shared management goals a reality. Restoration of the National Bison Range to federal trust ownership for the Tribes will always be a logical solution to future management. In fact, we continue to receive unprecedented support for the draft National Bison Range Restoration Act legislation, which the Tribes drafted and revised in 2016. In 2016 the Tribes also conducted extensive public outreach resulting in widespread support throughout the robust comment process. The National Bison Range will benefit from Tribal participation in any form. For this reason, the Tribal Council is committed to the hard work and transparency it has exhibited for more than two decades in working to enhance the Bison Range, which holds unique cultural significance to Tribal membership, whether it’s through restoration legislation or a management agreement.
Chairman Finley expressed appreciation for the personal call from Secretary Zinke in light of the Department's altered approach towards Bison Range restoration legislation. Chairman Finley further appreciates the Secretary's recognition of the Tribes' interests and capabilities with respect to the Bison Range.
"The National Bison Range is located in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation and will always be a central part of the conservation areas managed by the Tribes' nationally-recognized Natural Resources Department," said Chairman Finley. "Our stewardship interests there remain, and I look forward to continued discussions with Secretary Zinke and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding Tribal management."