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Montana News

Public Input To Help Shape Management Plans For Montana Wildlife Refuges

The Service is drafting comprehensive conservation plans, or CCPs, and accompanying environmental analyses for two areas: one for the National Bison Range, and a separate CCP for the rest of the units within the refuge complex.
Mike Albans
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The Service is drafting comprehensive conservation plans, or CCPs, and accompanying environmental analyses for two areas: one for the National Bison Range, and a separate CCP for the rest of the units within the refuge complex.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was in Polson and Kalispell this week, seeking public input on a pair of management plans for wildlife refuges in northwest Montana.About 15 people showed up to each meeting, hosted by Service staff, like Bernie Petersen, a regional refuge supervisor helping oversee the process.

"We're just in the state of gathering information from the public, of what they want to see, what they think is important to protect, and how they think we should be managing those resources," says Petersen.

The Service is drafting comprehensive conservation plans, or CCPs, and accompanying environmental analyses for two areas: one for the National Bison Range, and a separate CCP for the rest of the units within the refuge complex, including the Lost Trail, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges.

The Service is required by law to develop a CCP for each refuge it manages. The plans will probably take about three years to develop and will guide management decisions for the next 15 years.

"Obviously there's been a lot of contentious issues at the bison range and that's why we wanted to do it as a separate CCP, in and of itself," says Petersen.

The National Bison Range currently does not have a CCP. That process was delayed due to a series of agreements between the Service and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes that allowed for co-management for some aspects of the bison range. Last year, the Obama administration proposed transferring management entirely to the Tribes while maintaining federal ownership. Earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reversed course and announced the Service would retain management.

Bernie Petersen, with the Service, says in developing the new management plans, the Service will consider a range of options that include tribal involvement.

"It could be anything from particular projects the tribe would help us with on the refuge," Petersen says.

Petersen notes the Tribes already conduct prescribed burns and manage some habitat on the refuge.

"Going to the other end of the scale, it could be any number of the programs on the refuge — visitor services program, biological program, maintenance program — any of those could be taken over by the tribe," he says.

The Tribes have voiced a desire to work with Secretary Zinke and the Service on common interests, though it’s too early to say what that will look like.

"The Tribes' interest there remain, and the tribes have a decades-long history of cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on all sorts of conservation measures," says tribal attorney Brian Upton.

The Service is in talks with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, local governments, the state and a handful of other tribes to become cooperating agencies.

Several people who are part of an active lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service attended both meetings this week. Susan Reneau is one of 10 co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, last year that sought to block the transfer of management of the bison range to the Tribes. She says Zinke’s decision to retain management does not resolve PEER’s complaint.

"I would say it modified it, and it made us think," Reneau says. "I'm not at liberty to go into the details. But I will say there are things being discussed, and it's still an active lawsuit."

At both meetings, people raised concerns about understaffing at the bison range, invasive weed management and the status of special agreements between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes regarding co-management opportunities.

This summer, the Service will meet with cooperating agencies to develop vision statements and goals for the bison range and other wildlife refuges. It plans to release drafts of alternative management options next summer and will continue to accept public comment. The comprehensive conservation plan for the National Bison Range will have an accompanying Environmental Impact Statement, while the plan for the other units will have an Environmental Analysis.

For more information regarding the National Bison Range Complex, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

Comments to be considered for the National Bison Range can be emailed to scoping_NBR@fws.gov or sent by mail to:

Toni Griffin
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Branch of Planning and Policy
134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

Comments to be considered for the Lost Trail, Ninepipe, and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, and Northwest Montana Wetland Management Districts can be emailed to scoping_pablo_ninepipe@fws.gov or sent by mail to:

Bernardo Garza
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Branch of Planning and Policy
134 Union Boulevard, Suite 300
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

 

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