Montana Public Radio

Blackfeet Tribe Cites Treaty Rights In Planned Release Of Bison

Oct 7, 2016

The Blackfeet tribal government says it plans to release buffalo onto national forest land as “free roaming wildlife.” The Council made that official proclamation Thursday.

Montana’s Department of Livestock generally only allows buffalo to be managed as livestock in the state, citing concerns about disease spreading to cattle, and potential damage to private property.

Tribal Business Council Chair Harry Barnes says the Blackfeet have not consulted with the livestock department on their plan to release this herd of 89 bison into the Badger-Two Medicine Area.

That land belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, and Barnes says he doesn’t think the state of Montana has jurisdiction to stop the tribe.

"We have retained treaty rights, OK? What does that mean? It means we have the right to hunt, fish, gather roots and berries, trees to build our homes, and to graze our herds, OK? This, then, would fit in all of that. So all we’re doing is exercising an existing right under our treaty status with the U.S. government," says Barnes.

In March the federal government canceled a 30-year-old permit to drill for oil and gas on U.S. Forest Service land in the Badger-Two Medicine area.

This after a federal judge said that the leases violated environmental protection and historic preservation laws.

The company that holds the leases is suing to have its rights to drill restored.