Montana’s congressional delegation is taking a wait-and-see approach to a proposal to transfer management of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester says the plan would help bolster the tribes’ self-determination, which he supports. But, Tester adds, lots of issues must be ironed out before he’ll support it.
"Public access is going to be a big part of that; who’s going to be doing the management and to what impact and what kind of oversight (there would) be, all that kind of stuff. The bottom line is the tribes have managed buffalo. They’ve managed wildlife before - long before we showed up – so they can do it. That isn’t the problem. The problem is making sure the general public has access to the land."
Republican Senator Steve Daines says he’s glad the tribes are actively soliciting public input on the transfer proposal.
"I look forward to reviewing the comments and better understanding the impacts of transferring the management of the bison range to the CSKT."
Republican Representative Ryan Zinke is also withholding judgement for the time being. A spokeswoman says Zinke’s still reviewing related public comments and conservation issues.
Democratic congressional hopeful and current State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau has thrown her support behind the proposed transfer of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
In a statement, Juneau says that, if elected, she will do “what it takes to ensure a transition that maintains public access to the Bison Range and benefits the Tribes and all Montanans.”
The proposed transfer has been contentious for decades. In February, a group that includes former bison range employees filed a lawsuit to block a transfer, which is still in draft form and has not yet been introduced to Congress.
Both the range’s current manager - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - and the Tribes support transferring management to the tribes.
The Tribes held a public meeting Tuesday to address concerns and receive comments, which will help shape their proposal. Comments will be accepted through Friday and posted online early next week.