The National Bison Range in Montana. Photo: Dave Fitzpatrick / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes dealt setback on National Bison Range





The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are back to square one when it comes to the National Bison Range in Montana.

The tribe has been seeking the return of the federally-managed facility, which is located entirely within reservation boundaries. But the Trump administration has taken that option off the table.

"I recognize the Bison Range is a critical part of our past, present and future, which is why I have changed course," Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior said back in May.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now soliciting comments on a new management plan for the facility. A third public hearing is taking place in Missoula on Wednesday to take input from the public.

The potential return of the land to the tribe has been controversial among federal employees and conservation groups. But both the Obama and Bush administrations supported greater tribal involvement at the refuge, whose herd descends from animals that were raised and donated by tribal citizens.

The Obama administration, just two days before President Donald Trump took office, published a notice in the Federal Register acknowledging that the tribe was promised the land through a treaty signed in 1855. But the Trump team omitted references to the treaty when it reopened the review process in May.

"In 1855, the United States entered into the Hell Gate Treaty with the Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Western Montana to establish the Flathead Indian Reservation. Just over 50 years later, on May 23, 1908, Congress enacted legislation that used its power of eminent domain to establish the refuge," the January 18 notice read.

In addition to removing the reference to the treaty in the May 18 notice, the Trump administration eliminated the part about Congress taking the land from the tribe through the power of eminent domain.

Returning the land would require an act of Congress. It's possible the tribe could pursue a bill without the support of the Trump administration.

Read More on the Story:
Third public meeting set on Bison Range management plan (The Missoulian August 25, 2017)
USFWS Reopens Public Comment On Future Of National Bison Range (Montana Public Radio August 22, 2017)

Federal Register Notices:
Notice of Intent To Prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the National Bison Range, Moiese, Montana (May 18, 2017)
Notice of Intent To Prepare a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the National Bison Range, Moiese, Montana (January 18, 2017)

Related Stories:
Secretary Zinke won't return land taken from Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (April 18, 2017)
Vernon Finley: Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes seek return of National Bison Range (August 15, 2016)