Tribes rekindle push for federal trust ownership

March 21, 2019

A visitor to the National Bison Range near Moiese might someday enjoy a deeper and more holistic understanding of the bison, the land and the bison’s cultural context.

That’s the position, anyway, of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, which restated Wednesday a wish to restore the National Bison Range to federal trust ownership for the benefit of the tribes.

The Bison Range, established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, is currently owned by the United States as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently manages the 18,766-acre site. The refuge’s website reports the site’s bison herd numbers between 250 and 300 animals. Other wildlife, including elk, also populate the refuge.

Under the restoration plan as proposed, the land would not be removed from federal ownership but, under trust principles, the tribes would be the beneficial owners.

The tribes have previously sought beneficial ownership of the Bison Range and have had that course of action rejected by the U.S. Department of Interior.

On Wednesday, the tribes described a new effort to restore the Bison Range to Tribal Conservation Lands and reported that the ConfederatedSalish and Kootenai Tribes had notified Montana’s Congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Interior of that pursuit.

A news release emphasized that legislation proposed by the tribes would require continued public access and management for bison conservation.

The tribes note that the Bison Range’s original herd included descendants of bison brought to the Flathead Indian Reservation when the animal was at risk of extinction.

Tribal Chairman Ronald Trahan said in a news release that restoration of the Bison Range to federal trust ownership for the tribes “is the best solution.”

Trahan added, “It is also historically just. The tribes work hard as natural resource and wildlife managers and we look forward to extending our work at the Bison Range.”

Rich Janssen, head of the Tribes’ Natural Resources Department, described a couple of key projects the tribes have undertaken successfully and said this outcome would apply also to the Bison Range.

“We already have an extensive network of tribally-designated conservation areas that surround the Bison Range; its central location would be a logical addition to tribal lands and would promote more holistic management,” Janssen said.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes would be the stewards of the bison herd.

The tribes describe the Bison Range as being in the center of the 1.25 million acre Flathead Indian Reservation.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at 758-4407 or dadams@dailyinterlake.com.