GLACIER NATIONAL PARK — The Blackfeet Nation is looking at the creation of its own national park — something that could have a major environmental and economic impact on the tribe and its lands.
Right now, the Blackfeet Nation is looking at new ways to manage the tribe’s agricultural resources with a feasibility study on the creation of a Blackfeet conservation area.
“When we think about a Blackfeet conservation area, it will be in two phases. The first looks at the feasibility for the creation of a national park, which would allow us to put a swath of land into permanent conservation,” said Loren Bird Rattler, the Blackfeet Agricultural Resource Management Plan project manager.
“We are also looking at a national prairie-land designation that would preserve prairie lands and prairie grasses for rangeland.”
Establishment of Blackfeet National Park could open up the opportunity for the tribe to collect fees from the public to go toward resource management.
The possible park area, along the border of the Blackfeet Reservation and Glacier National Park, would help protect one of the most intact ecosystems in the lower 48 states. It could also provide room for the tribe’s goal of re-establishing free-roaming bison.
“We could potentially look at connectivity between the Badger Two Medicine and the Chief Mountain that would allow for the reintroduction of Iinnii or bison,” Bird Rattler added.
Glacier National Park Superintendent Jeff Mow said while the tribal park would be solely controlled by the Blackfeet Nation, its goals of ecological and cultural preservation match with the mission of the National Park Service.
He also says that, while there would be many details that need to be worked out, he hopes for a seamless border between the two parks.
“Certainly, for Glacier, where we’re suffering from the impacts of extremely high visitation, you know I think having a larger landscape to provide opportunities for our visitors is really a good thing,” Mow said.
Along with the goal of a national park, the protection of tribal rangeland is seen as an advantage for the production of grass-fed livestock.
“It will put the Blackfeet Tribe in a position to better market their agriculture products in this case beef or bison at a much higher rate,” Mow said.
The mission of agricultural and environmental sustainability brings their dream of economic sustainability for the tribe closer to reality.
“At the end of the day, you’re talking about the tribe’s ability to really be a sovereign nation, right? To really have the ability to underwrite all of their own functions, management functions whatever it may be so that they’re not at the behest of cyclical funding or the federal government.”
The ongoing feasibility study on the future of this landscape is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
-Joe Huisinga reporting for MTN News