Tribal nation leaders and conservation groups sent a letter to Montana’s governor Tuesday urging him to veto two bison management bills.
The leaders of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, the Fort Belknap Indian Community and Blackfeet Nation, along with the InterTribal Buffalo Council, Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups, say the two bison bills will threaten tribal efforts to restore bison through “the unlawful delegation of state powers and the restrictive definition of wild bison.”
House Bill 302, which would give county commissions authority to approve or deny bison transfers, is opposed by tribal nation leaders who say the bill contradicts Montana statutes and sets a “dangerous precedent for fish and wildlife management.”
“It’s kind of an attack on tribal sovereignty,” said Ervin Carlson from Blackfeet Nation, president of the InterTribal Buffalo Council.
While supporters in the bill’s hearings said it gives locals impacted by bison transfers more authority, tribal members and leaders said it would ultimately make acquiring bison more difficult or even impossible for tribes.
“Do the county commissioners have any expertise in wildlife management? Or do they have any, you know, biologists on a commission or wildlife managers who can actually give a real reason why they shouldn't come in? We don't think so. It's just more of a political decision that's going to be made,” Carslon says.
The letter also asked Gov. Gianforte to veto House Bill 318, which would define domestic bison as animals that have ever been subject to a per-capita livestock fee. Opponents say the new definition ensures very few bison in Montana will qualify as wild bison, which they say would constrain tribal, state and federal efforts to supplement conservation herds.
The bills have not yet been transmitted to the governor’s desk.
Earlier this week, Gianforte announced the cancellation of a bison management plan that would have allowed more bison to be restored across the state.
Kaitlyn Nicholas is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America Indigenous affairs reporter.