This morning the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes released draft legislation that would transfer the National Bison Range from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to tribal control.
Before the federal government created the National Bison Range in 1908, that land was part of the Flathead Reservation. The draft bill released today would return control of those 18,000 acres back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The tribes say their intention is to continue bison conservation and public access to the bison range.
"Our wildlife program is top-notch," says Rich Janssen, head of the natural resources department for the CSKT.
"We have the tools and the capabilities to manage this bison range in perpetuity, and I think when that occurs, this will undoubtedly improve what you see at the bison range at this time."
But Paula Dinerstein of the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says her group has filed a lawsuit to stop the proposed legislation.
"We don’t think that taking the refuge out of the federal system is going to give it the same kind of management and protections that it’s had over the last hundred years."
Dinerstein says the proposal requires an environmental impact statement; the tribes disagree.
But other organizations say the attempt to stop the transfer of the bison range may have more to do with curtailing the power of the tribes than with legitimate environmental concerns. The Montana Human Rights Network has documented anti-Indian activism on the part of several of the plaintiffs in the PEER lawsuit.