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USFWS Will Hear Public Comment On Bison Range Management This Week

A sign at the National Bison Range in northwest Montana.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
A sign at the National Bison Range in northwest Montana.

New possibilities for management of the National Bison Range north of Missoula are out, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on them at three meetings this week. 

In 2016 the Obama administration proposed transferring ownership of the Bison Range from the Fish and Wildlife Service to federal trust ownership for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. In 2017, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rescinded that proposal following a lawsuit against it. The CSKT have continued to push for a transfer, including a formal request to Montana’s congressional delegation and the Interior Department in March.

But the Environmental Impact Statement on the new Bison Range management plan released early this month, does not acknowledge tribal demands.

"You know, it’s smack dab in the middle of our reservation," says Rich Janssen, the head of the Department of Natural Resources of the CSKT. "Eighteen thousand acres that was just taken."

The U.S. government established the National Bison Range in 1908 under legislation that allowed the parcelling out of land within the Flathead Reservation.

"We can improve on what’s already out there today if we manage it and bring back the mighty Q’wey Q’way, which is the Salish term 'the bison'," Janssen says.

Janssen stresses that a transfer would maintain public access to the range. He says this is the latest in a process that’s lasted more than two decades. But he’s optimistic that the transfer will eventually occur.

"I believe in my lifetime — I’m 49 years old — and I believe in my lifetime it will occur."

The meetings this week will be Tuesday at 5 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library, Wednesday at 5 p.m. at the Red Lion Inn in Polson, and Thursday at 5 p.m. at the National Bison Range visitor center in Charlo. Public comment runs through May 20.

Nick Mott is a reporter and podcast producer who focuses on wildlife, natural resources, and the environment. He was editor on the podcasts Shared State and Fireline, and producer on the podcasts Threshold and Richest Hill.
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