WASHINGTON, DC — Following years of debate, and lawsuits, the federal government is officially turning over management of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).
The Department of the Interior made the announcement Wednesday, completing a transfer of the refuge in the Mission Valley to CSKT from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which had operated the Bison Range for decades.
The move comes after years of lawsuits that had challenged the transfer.
For nearly 20-years, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), had raised questions over the tribe's ability to manage the Bison Range, and whether the USFWS could even legally transfer the operation.
The last suit was settled in 2018, opening the door for the government to begin an orderly transition.
Last winter the transfer was finalized with Congressional approval of the Flathead Water Compact, and CSKT and the Fish and Wildlife Service have been implementing the transition this year.
Tribal officials have said they intend to continue operations as they have been, including public access.
(first report: 12:45 p.m.m - June 23, 2021)
The federal government has transferred the National Bison Range in Western Montana to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).
The US Department of the Interior announced the transfer of the 18,800 acres on Wednesday to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be held in trust for CSKT.
The lands on the Flathead Reservation were transferred from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
“The establishment of the National Bison Range was an historic use of lands to preserve wildlife, but we must also acknowledge that this act reduced the Salish and Kootenai peoples’ homeland by thousands of acres,” Indian Affairs Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Newland stated in a news release.
“Today’s announcement marks the oﬃcial return of the Bison Range lands and resources to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes," USFWS Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams stated.
“The CSKT is a leader in conservation of natural resources throughout Montana, and the Service looks forward to continuing to work together to conserve wildlife and wild places throughout the state,” Williams added.
The National Bison Range was established on May 23, 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation authorizing funds to purchase land for bison conservation.
It was the first time Congress appropriated tax dollars to buy land specifically to preserve wildlife, according to the news release.