Archive for the ‘Bison Range’ Category

by jhwygirl

SB337 has already had its hearing in the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee last week, on the 19th. What it has not had is an executive action.

This bill has also already passed the Senate on a 31-19 vote.

This is an absolutely horribly unreasonable piece of legislation that would prevent the transfer of quarantined, disease-free buffalo – currently in pens near Gardiner, Montana – to any place in Montana other than the tiny National Bison Range located within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation.

SB 337 needs to die in committee. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks opposes SB 337, saying that if it becomes law, the quarantined, disease-fee buffalo “will likely be slaughtered.”

SB 337 is based on a load of unfounded crap – sorry there Sen. John Brendan. Bison have not been the culprit of Montana’s loss in status as brucellosis-free….and that is something I’ve been saying for years and getting slammed (at least not that long ago) by people who have ignored and continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence that elk are the problem.hal

SB 337 disrespects the tribes. Montana’s American Indian tribes on the eastern side of the state have attempted to – for 4 years now – relocate these animals to reservations throughout the state, only to be stopped because of unreasonable and unfounded fears. This has got to stop.

Until – and honestly, I don’t imagine how it is going to happen – elk are eliminated from co-mingling with livestock herds around brucellosis-central (that being Yellowstone National Park), brucellosis is going to be a threat. Until the Feds quit feeding elk down there in Jackson Wyoming on the National Elk Refuge and the adjacent National Forests, brucellosis is going to be a threat. Until the State of Wyoming quits feeding elk in its own feedgrounds, brucellosis is going to be an issue.

See what I’m saying? Feed elk and you breed brucellosis. Breed brucellosis in Wyoming, and you cause brucellosis to perpetuate itself anywhere those elk travel.

Please take a moment tomorrow to call the legislative information desk – soon, because as I mentioned, this unreasonable bill really needs to just die a death in committee, and having had it’s hearing last week, executive action is pending any day now. The lines open at 7:30. The number is 406-444-4800, and all you have to do is leave a message for the House Fish, Wildlife & Parks committee, for SB 337, telling the committee to please vote NO.

by Jay Stevens 

More news from the Bison Range:

An independent investigator found that federal employees were often the target of “abuse and intimidation” from, one can only assume from the article, which doesn’t explicitly say, Salish Kootenai tribal members:

The investigation was commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after several federal workers filed a grievance in September citing sexual harassment, hostile working conditions, substandard safety, racial slurs and violence. They also alleged mistreatment of animals, as well as potential criminal violations involving federal property and funds.

The investigation was commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service, so it’s possible the investigation found what the FWS wanted it to. On the other hand, it’s pretty damning, and the timing is impeccable.

Officials from the Department of the Interior, which reversed the FWS’ decision to stop the handover of the refuge’s control to the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes, have arrived on the scene in order to hash out what’s been going on.

The arrival of the officials coincided with a statement from Dennis Rehberg that I actually — *gasp* — agree with:

On Wednesday, Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., requested a Government Accountability Office investigation and a hearing before the House Resources Committee into the allegations of mismanagement and the Interior Department’s reversal of Hall’s decision to end the agreement with the tribes.

”The people of Montana and the employees at the bison range, both tribal and nontribal, deserve a full, fair and impartial investigation into not only FWS’s allegations of mismanagement but also DOI’s own actions related to the bison range,” Rehberg wrote in requesting the investigations.

The GAO does excellent work, and I back Rehberg’s call for an investigation.

If federal employees were derailing the transfer because of territorial ambitions, heads should roll. If tribal members were as bad as described, they should not have control of the range.

by Jay Stevens 

The latest report from the Bison Range brouhaha surfaced recently, this time telling the story from the USFWS employees’ perspective. And, as always, I found some interesting material.

In this story, the Missoulian shares some Department of the Interior documents released by PEER — the federal employees’ organization that is strongly opposed to tribal takeover of the wildlife refuge. The report alleges that tribal work members used vulgarity and took other actions to create a hostile workplace environment.

The rest of the piece centers on an interview with recently retired USFWS official and Bison Range project manager, Dave Wiseman. According to Wiseman, the root of the conflicts at the refuge is the CSKT’s desire for full control:

“I’d say it hasn’t worked because the tribe doesn’t want it to work,” says Wiseman, who managed the bison range from 1995-2004 and was involved in all negotiations between the federal government and the tribes concerning the refuge during that time.

“From the beginning of the negotiations they told us there was not going to be a partnership,” Wiseman says. “They always intended to get everything. What changed was they were willing to compromise in order to get a foot in the door. The tribes had a tremendous opportunity to be partners at the bison range, but they told us early on there was never going to be any partnership.”

Wiseman also cites the differences in regulations between federal and tribal hiring: nepotism laws don’t apply in tribal hires; federal agencies can’t hire former felons:

If the Fish and Wildlife Service objects to someone who’s been hired at the range, the tribes make it clear they get to decide who works for them.

I could see why that attitude would annoy government bureaucrats.

No mention in the story is made of the original allegations from the USFWS that tribal performance was the Bison Range was poor — either a telling omission by the USFWS and PEER, or an egregious mistake by the Missoulian’s Vince Devlin. Does that mean the original allegations against the tribal members false? Not important enough to warrant mention in the internal reports? Or just an oversight?

And with Wiseman’s account, we seem to be approaching the core of the story and the reason for the conflict. Both sides want the refuge. Both sides are (probably, IMHO) acting like toddlers fighting over a toy.

Again, I’m glad an independent ombudsman is on the way to oversee the transfer of the refuge into tribal hands. Considering that the refuge is on tribal lands, and that managing bison is part of the tribes’ heritage, I think the CSKT has the right to control the Bison Range. Hopefully someone dedicated to the transfer — instead of someone jealous of his bureaucratic turf — will be able to hammer out the compromises necessary to effect the change in management.

by Jay Stevens 

The latest update from the Missoulian about the Bison Range dispute doesn’t have much new information, but there are a couple of things I’d like to point out.

First, of course, is that Shane did make good points in the comments to the previous post on this subject. The CSKT has had its fair share of mismanagement in its history. The USFWS could be relaying accurate information.

That’s why I’m glad the Department of the Interior is sending an independent negotiator to oversee the transfer of the refuge into tribal hands:

The announcement also included the news that an ombudsman would be retained to assist Interior officials in identifying and resolving problems and conflicts at the range, that Cason and Hall would travel to Montana to discuss management issues and concerns with FWS and tribal personnel, and that an earlier process to phase in full tribal management at the range would be suspended for now.

It could be that the ombudsman comes to the same conclusion as the USFWS – although I doubt it. If so, I’ll eat crow on this here site.

As for federal employees’ worry about privatizing wildlife refuges across the country?

“I don’t see a national movement to privatize refuges or bison ranges,” [CSKT chairman James] Steele said. “Even if there is, it has nothing to do with this range. This will still be a federal bison range, on federal property, governed by federal laws. The only thing different would be tribal involvement. It would be best if both sides worked together for the betterment of the bison and the other wildlife and vegetation on the refuge, for the betterment of all American people.”

And, IMHO, the kicker:

Acts of Congress allow Indian tribes to seek involvement in, and control over, many federal lands where they can demonstrate a cultural, historical or geographic connection. The bison at the refuge descend from bison brought to the Mission Valley, and owned, by Indians. The range’s 18,500 acres sit within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation.

It’s not just that the CSKT needs the work, the money, or the responsibilities of land stewardship…this is their herd on their land.

If there were irregularities with tribal involvement on the range, the USFWS should have tried to correct or influence the tribal members rather than shut down the project. No matter who’s at fault in this – and, as you know, I suspect the USFWS of sharing a larger role in creating the mess – the question should be how to shift control to the tribes, not whether control should be shifted.

by Jay Stevens

Over at Left in the West, jhwrlgirl notes that the Department of the Interior stepped in over the Bison Range kerfluffle, and reversed the Fish and Wildlife’s decision to nix the handover of the refuge to the Confederated Salish Kootenai tribes.

jhwrlgirl’s got all the salient facts — and, IMHO, should either get her own blog already or should be bumped up to main contributor status over at LITW — but here’s a couple of things that stick out for me:

First, the Interior’s assigned an ombudsman to negotiate the takeover. Good news there; in a recent post I suggest the current Range manger — Steve Kallin — should be replaced. An ombudsman makes more sense. Why hire a new manager now in the last stages of the USFWS’ control over the Range?

jhwrlgirl’s also mentioned in the LITW post and in the comments at b’birds that the federal employees’ viewpoint can be found at Apparently USFWS employees are worried that the CSKT takeover of the Bison Range augurs an impending movement towards privatizing control of our wildlife refuges, and that’s what jhwrlgirl suspects is driving USFWS reluctance in this case:

Personally, I think this was/is nothing more than a turf war, instigated by the Feds, and fed by the irrational fear of job loss.

I suspect she’s right, but she also dismisses this fear. Personally I wouldn’t put it over the Bush administration to use the Bison Range and our sympathies for Native American takeover of bison management to slip through a plan for the wholesale giveaway of our public lands.

That said, the Bison Range takeover should be considered now, for what it is, not what it might be. And right now, in this case, the Salish and Kootenai peoples should have the right to steward bison on their land. Period.

by Jay Stevens 

Recently, I’ve railed against the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to bar handing control of the Bison Range over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In a previous post, I thought that something other than tribal member performance on the Range was at stake here.

And it looks like I was right.

In today’s Missoulian, two ranchers and volunteers for the Bison Range stepped up and not only denied tribal members were performing poorly, they claimed that tribal members did a better job of managing the herd during the yearly roundup:

“The only FWS response was to run the [bison] harder, getting them even more stressed and worn out,” [Paul] Bishop says. “The common method, once all the ‘easy’ animals had been chased in by riders, was to retire the horses and bring out a FWS Jeep. The driver would then chase the remaining stubborn bison, horn blaring, until they submitted.”[snip]

But when the tribes came on board, that changed, Bishop says.

“The tribes’ first roundup was a huge success, which was completed in two days with time to spare,” Bishops says.

“I know it sounds odd, but I believe the animals noticed a difference, too,” he says. “They were clearly much calmer and less stressed. The riders did a fantastic job of handling the animals with care and everyone else followed suit. The bison were processed through with a level of compassion and patience that was definitely lacking in the old FWS cowboy days.”

Bishop says his jaw dropped when [National Bison Range project manager Steve] Kallin glossed over the success of the roundup afterward.

“I am not sure why he won’t tell you this,” Bishop says he told the roundup staff after Kallin left, “but that was the best roundup in the last 10 years, maybe ever.”

Bishop, along with Bernard Hakes, also deny that the bison they’ve seen look neglected, as was claimed by Kallin.

Bishop claims that Kallin “created an environment of distrust, animosity, and misinformation” at the refuge, and called for Kallin to be replaced at the Range by someone who would facilitate the change of control to the Salish and Kootenai tribes.

So why are they stepping forward, anyway?

“I quite frankly don’t give a damn who runs the Bison Range, but if Fish and Wildlife is going to take it over for a reason, let’s let it be the truth,” Hakes says. “I could bitch about the tribes over other things and spend a couple of hours. But when it comes to the Bison Range, there’s been no neglect, and the proof is in the animal.”

It’s times like this that I love Montana.

Of course, I know that this is merely anecdotal evidence, but it seems to fit in with the rhetoric emanating from the FWS itself over the change of control of the Bison Range, that resistance to the change is more about career bureaucrats unwilling to relinquish control of their prized possession than it is about poor tribal performance.

In the end, Bishop’s suggestion that Kallin should be replaced is spot-on. The CSKT should have control of the Bison Range, period. If Kallin can’t administer the change, let’s get someone in there who can.

by Jay Stevens 

The decision to yank the proposed Bison Range stewardship heated up a little today, as we get some reactions from both sides:

James Steele Jr., council chairman of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said Tuesday that he felt “blindsided” by the National Wildlife Service’s abrupt decision to end its arrangement with the tribes to share management of the National Bison Range.”

We feel this is an orchestrated effort on the part of the Fish and Wildlife Service … to basically undermine this partnership,” said Steele. In a statement, he called the tribes “convenient scapegoats for the Fish and Wildlife Service failures.”

Federal officials claimed that the tribes’ workers on the Bison Range performed poorly and failed to complete their duties. But there’s a hint of politics in the decision

From the start, the plan to involve the tribes attracted fierce opposition, with opponents characterizing it as the tug on the first thread that would unravel the entire national wildlife refuge and national parks system.

“It is absolutely an attempt on the part of this administration, as well as the Clinton administration, to privatize and localize our public lands. If that happens, they’ll be destroyed. The Bison Range is the beginning domino,” said Susan Reneau, of Missoula, a member of the Blue Goose Alliance, a national nonprofit group that opposed the plan. Reneau pronounced herself “thrilled” Tuesday with the arrangement’s demise.

Gene Hocutt, another opponent, agreed, saying that “this is really about the miserable public land administration policies of this particular regime in Washington, D.C., and how they have not fulfilled their requirement for stewardship.” Hocutt is a retired national refuge manager who serves as spokesman for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a nonprofit group of natural resources employees that has rallied opposition to the Bison Range takeover.

Got that? It’s not really the performance of tribal members that’s the issue, it’s who gets to control our national parks and wildlife areas.

Look, I’m about as paranoid about Bush administration privatization schemes for our public spaces as anybody. But handing over control of the Bison Range to the Salish Kootenai confederated tribes hardly seems to fit the profile of privatized, run-for-profit public lands. Tribal control is about giving Native Americans power over their own lands and reconnecting them to their traditional roles. It’s a win-win situation, isn’t it? You give the tribes their lands back and encourage them to become our land’s stewards, and the sense of purpose combined with a connection traditional culture should help ease the crushing loss of self-identity on reservations everywhere.

Remember, this is their land.

Am I missing something here?

Update: Mike weighs in with his own perspective, which basically says that tribal members apparently muffed their duties and should be held to the same standards as FWS employees. And history doesn’t bestow rights of ownership.

Certainly I agree that the tribes should do a good job, but FWS never published a detailed list of exactly how tribal employees failed on the job, other than a few inconsistent accusations, none of which sounded severe enough to warrant pulling the plug on the deal. (Putting bison in the wrong pasture?)

Ultimately, I’m with Readbetween, who wrote in the comments, “I’m thinking it has more to do with some very specific incidents…” I agree, and probably having to do with race-based on-site tensions, based on the little hints and clues dribbled throughout the story.


by Jay Stevens 

This week, federal managers ended the Salish-Kootenai tribes’ role in helping manage the National Bison Range, just north of Missoula, citing failed participation under an interim plan.

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the tribes’ desire to manage the federal lands, mostly from environmentalists who were concerned that tribal management would lead to “reduced stewardship.”

I’ll say this: if environmentalists are serious about preserving ecosystems, we’re going to have build broad coalitions with local support in the areas we’re trying to work. In fact, that’s been a weakness of the movement, that large groups based on the coasts do work in rural areas while steamrolling over the concern of locals.

With the Bison Range, there was an opportunity to put local tribes in the center of stewardship of the land. The tribes would get jobs and federal funds and would reassert their place as owners and proprietors of their ancestral lands. Environmentalists would find a ready ally in preservation schemes. Only something got in the way.

I don’t know the details of this story, what the tribes failed to do, but I suspect that what lies at the heart of this particular controversy is a conflict of culture. I can imagine that the tribes aren’t being subservient enough for the bureaucrats, and I suspect the tribes aren’t valuing some regulations as they should.

To be honest, I don’t have a ready solution. I only know that environmentalists and federal agents should be willing to compromise on the issue, because ultimately having the Bison Range in tribal control seems like a good thing to me.

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