Native Sun News: Tribes seek removal of federal grizzly bear czar

The following story was written and reported by Arianna Amehae for the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.


James Walks Along, the historic preservation officer for the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, was denied an opportunity to speak at a meeting of the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee / Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Wyoming. Photo courtesy GOAL Tribal Coalition

Tribes ask Interior Secretary Jewell to remove 'grizzly czar'
By Arianna Amehae

Twelve Tribal Nations have called on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to remove the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator, Dr. Chris Servheen, after questioning his “fitness to participate in this process.”

In an open letter to Secretary Jewell and FWS Director Dan Ashe, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (TLC) cited Servheen’s actions at the recent federal-state Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) meeting in Wyoming to make their case.

“Not only was Dr. Servheen party to James Walks Along (Northern Cheyenne THPO) being unceremoniously silenced, after the meeting Dr. Servheen continued to demean tribal opposition to delisting the Yellowstone grizzly bear when he dismissively informed the media that tribes were powerless to stop the delisting process,” TLC Board Chairman, Ivan Posey, states in the letter.

A video of Walks Along being forcibly stopped from making a statement on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe at the IGBC meeting has inspired a wave of outrage and indignation across Indian Country and beyond.

Walks Along tried to speak during a Wyoming Game and Fish presentation entitled “Grizzly Bear Management on Tribal Lands” which attempted to highlight “collaborations” between tribes and federal and state agencies.

Northern Cheyenne President, Llevando Fisher, subsequently demanded an apology from Wyoming’s governor, Matt Mead, for the “disrespect” shown to Walks Along and the Northern Cheyenne Nation. Governor Mead has yet to respond.


YouTube: Northern Cheyenne James Walks Along is thrown off the stage

Walks Along sought to draw attention to FWS’s failure to honor the mandated tribal consultation process on the issue. All thirty-five tribal nations that have now issued official declarations and resolutions against delisting the grizzly from the ESA have cataloged Congressional Acts, Secretarial and Executive Orders, that require the federal government to engage in “meaningful tribal consultation.”

“The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council calls for Dr. Servheen to be removed from this process forthwith as he is clearly an impediment to good faith consultation and achieving the progress that all parties desire,” Chairman Posey advises Secretary Jewell on behalf of the eleven tribes represented by the body.

In the wake of the controversy, the Center for Biological Diversity initiated an online petition to “tell top Obama administration officials” to engage in consultation with the tribes and to issue an apology to the Northern Cheyenne.

“Not only is an apology warranted after the incident in Wyoming, but it’s time for the Interior Department to do what’s right,” reads the petition, which has so far generated over 33,000 signatories.

In a strongly worded statement issued June 5, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe (CCST) “denounced the disrespect inflicted upon the Northern Cheyenne.”

CCST Chairwoman, Roxanne Sazue, describes the incident as “a graphic demonstration of disrespect and patriarchy toward not only the Northern Cheyenne Nation, but to all of the Tribal Nations that have united in opposition to FWS’s new rule to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear.”


Grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park. Photo from National Park Service

The CCST criticizes the FWS for “appearing to bow” to the wishes of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana on delisting.

“This process has been sullied by the politicization of the issue by those three states, most egregiously Wyoming, led by Governor Matt Mead and that state’s Congressional delegation,” writes Chairwoman Sazue.

Chairwoman Sazue also serves as secretary of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association, which unanimously passed a resolution opposing the removal of ESA protections from the grizzly.

The Crow Creek Sioux Tribe has joined the Rocky Mountain TLC in demanding Dr. Servheen’s removal. Since his appointment in 1979, Dr. Servheen has authorized the killing of 182 grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone, a number that exceeds the entire estimated population of grizzlies in the region when the bear was listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1975. Almost 100 of those were euthanized post-2007, after FWS’s last attempt to remove ESA protections from the Great Bear.

“The Feds calling Servheen their ‘Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator’ is a classic oxymoron. The ‘Griz Reaper’ would be more accurate,” says GOAL Tribal Coalition co-founder, R. Bear Stands Last.

GOAL has been instrumental in galvanizing tribal opposition to the threatened delisting and subsequent trophy hunting of the grizzly.

Categorized as “problem bears,” many of those condemned by Servheen were killed in response to reported conflicts with livestock. The greatest concentration of livestock conflicts currently occurs in Wyoming’s Upper Green River drainage, where some 22,500 cattle and 7,500 sheep range in grizzly habitat.


Chris Servheen serves as Grizzly Bear Recovery Coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Photo from University of Montana

“A lot of this, designating wolves and grizzlies as ‘trophy game animals’ and taking them off the Endangered Species list, is because of ranchers,” summarizes Linwood Tall Bull, Northern Cheyenne Elderly Director and GOAL spokesman.

“The ranchers are allowed to use this Forest Service managed land in the Upper Green, and BLM managed land, to graze their animals, but anytime there is a dead calf the wolf or the grizzly is always blamed. It is so sad that these lands that are suitable for the grizzly and wolf are taken over by livestock,” reflects the GOAL spokesman.

The Upper Green is sacred land to the Shoshone, but one where Wyoming intends to “manage” grizzly bears “at lower densities.” According to Wyoming’s Grizzly Bear Management Plan, this will be prosecuted through “a combination of agency conflict management actions, including sport hunting.”

“The Eastern Shoshone Tribe will oppose any attempts to hunt grizzlies in our recognized ancestral homelands,” stressed Darwin St. Clair, Jr., Chairman of the Eastern Shoshone, in an email. Chairman St. Clair, Jr. “reiterated the position made in our resolution of 10/28/14 opposing the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear.”

The Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation has offered unequivocal support to the Eastern Shoshone in an official resolution.

In its letter to Secretary Jewell, the Rocky Mountain TLC reprised the foundation of the tribal opposition to delisting the grizzly.

“All of the issues pertaining to spiritual and religious freedom rights, potential infringements of sovereignty, and treaty violations that the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear threatens, are legitimate concerns validated by millennia of traditional knowledge – and for over 200 years – documents that have been approved and issued by the highest branches of the US Government.”

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Great Sioux Nation, echoes that stance.

“We talk about harmony, balance, understanding and the sacred relationship between all things, while others talk about trophy hunting,” he says. “My heart is heavy because of this. These state game commissioners, wardens and government agencies don’t see the spiritual nature of this.”

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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