MISSOULA – People discussing a proposed new management plan for the National Bison Range sounded more concerns about enough funding for the plan, rather than changes in how the range could be operated.
Those concerns were expressed Tuesday evening as the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) presented details of a Draft Management Plan that aims to outline how the refuge in the Mission Valley will be operated over the next 15 years.
The plan comes after several years of lawsuits and disputes over the future of the range, and whether the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will play a larger roll in managing the unit.
As of this latest version, the tribe is no longer being proposed as a specific partner.
But the plan addresses a variety of issues, from the increased crowds and popularity of the Bison Range, to how the refuge can be managed in the face of a changing climate.
But several of the speakers had more questions about how the federal government will keep up with the responsibility of management in these days of budget cuts and refuge consolidation.
However, USFWS staff offered assurances that actions like law enforcement are being addressed.
“So until folks ask legislators to appropriate more money we’re probably going to be in this situation. My question is, would you be able to know — I know you don’t have the budget with you — but to the extent you might be able to share with folks how much less the agency has to work with?” asked CSKT member Brian Upton.
“It would be nice to know that yes, it will be stationed at Benton Lake, that law enforcement will be covering three refuges, etc, etc, etc. That the recreation planner will be covering all the complex for whatever would come up. Because that list looks nice. But not if they’re not all at the Bison Range all the time,” USFWS Pat Jamieson stated.
“They’re preparing to advertise a law enforcement person right now that will be stationed in the northern side of this new complex that will help cover here as well,” USFWS Refuge Manager Kevin Shinn said.
CKST leaders said last month they remain interested in helping with management of the National Bison Range.
The agency will keep taking written comments on the different plans for the Bison Range through May 20.
Click here to view the proposed plan and to submit public comment.