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 In 2017, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke rescinded that proposal following a lawsuit against it.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.
"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.