Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Salish-Kootenai Tribal Bison Range?

National Bison Range (Photo by Dave Stalling)
I am tired of the ignorance and racism that seems to be growing increasingly prevalent in our society.

Today I read public comments to a story regarding a proposal to turn over management of the National Bison Range -- part of our National Wildlife Refuge System and currently managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) -- over to the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribe of the Flathead Reservation (CSKT).

There are some rational, legitimate concerns about this. For example: could it set a dangerous precedent for turning over federal lands to other entities? Maybe. It's a question worthy of serious discussion.

However, while browsing through the public comments, I read a lot of statements such as this: "The Indians are too lazy to run it" . . . "They're always drunk" . . . "They will kill all the wildlife and turn it into a casino" . . . and so on.  

Here are some facts:

The National Bison Range is within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation on land originally reserved for the tribe, and was started with bison that the tribe saved from extinction. Today, the tribe has one of the best wildlife and conservation programs in the nation and they have done a lot to protect open spaces, wild places and critical wildlife habitat -- particularly for grizzly bears. The headwaters of some of the streams they protect and, in some cases, have restored, are some of the last strongholds for indigenous, threatened, westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout.

The CSKT South Fork of the Jocko Primitive Area and the CSKT Grizzly Conservation Area, adjacent to the Mission Mountain Wilderness, are some of the wildest places remaining in the Continental United States. There are no casinos there -- just wild country, with an abundance and diversity of wildlife.

I have a tremendous amount of respect, admiration and appreciation for the CSKT. They have built strong and good collaborative relationships and partnerships with the National Bison Range, the USFWS and other federal land and wildlife agencies as well as Montana state land and wildlife agencies.

The CSKT has received numerous prestigious awards for their conservation efforts, including top awards from the National Wildlife Federation and the Yellowstone to Yukon Initiative.

I have no doubt the CSKT would be great stewards of the National Bison Range -- just have they have been great stewards of their other lands, for hundreds of years, long before the United States even existed. They deserve the chance to prove so. It's the right thing to do.