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Comment period for annual funding agreement extended

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News from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

LAKEWOOD, Colo. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the public comment period for 14 days on the draft Environmental Assessment for a proposed Annual Funding Agreement that would allow the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to manage and implement the biological, maintenance, public use and fire management programs on the National Bison Range Complex. Comments on the draft EA from members of the public will be welcomed by the Service until the deadline of Sept. 18, 2014.

“We always think that it’s important to involve stakeholders in the process of deciding how to best manage our shared natural resources,” said Will Meeks, Mountain-Prairie Region assistant regional director for Refuges. “Both citizens and Tribal members with an opinion on how the National Bison Range will be managed are invited to comment on the draft environmental assessment during the extended comment period. This is a limited opportunity to help shape the future management of the refuge complex.”

The EA addresses those units located within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation; specifically the National Bison Range, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, and nine waterfowl production areas. All of these units are within Lake and Sanders counties in Montana.

The CSKT requested negotiations for a third AFA in November 2011 under the authority of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, as amended. The Service and CSKT spent five months developing a draft AFA proposal for the public to consider. This proposed agreement proposes to transfer all staff positions associated with these programs to CSKT for recruitment of their own employees. 

Now, the Service has prepared the EA to evaluate the environmental consequences of the proposed agreement, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition to this proposed agreement, the Service also developed and analyzed four other AFA alternatives for the public’s consideration and comment. Each AFA alternative would allow CSKT to manage or assist with programs, services, functions, and activities on the refuge complex to various degrees for a term of five years. At the end of that term, a new agreement would be negotiated. 

The following is a synopsis of the AFA alternatives, which are currently available for public comment:

Alternative A - under the no-action alternative the Service would continue to administer and carry out all programs on the refuge complex and would not pursue an AFA with CSKT.

Alternative B – under the proposed action the Service would carry out the draft AFA negotiated with CSKT during 2011–2012; CSKT would be responsible for designing, implementing, and managing refuge programs, including biology, fire, maintenance, and visitor services. 

Alternative C – This AFA alternative would include the Tribes conducting full fire management and collaborating on all aspects of the visitor services program, including transferring positions in the visitor services program. Under this alternative, all work of the refuge complex would be accomplished under the supervision, direction, and leadership of the Service refuge manager or deputy refuge manager and Service program leaders in accordance with approved Service plans and policies.

Alternative D - In addition to the fire operations and visitor services programs described in alternative C, the long-term objective would be to transfer more of the permanent positions and responsibility to CSKT over time. This would allow newly hired CSKT employees to work with current Service staff to gain the on-site experience needed to eventually assume more responsibility and positions. All work on the refuge complex would be supervised and directed by the Service refuge manager or deputy refuge manager and Service program leaders, in accordance with approved Service plans and policies. 

Alternative E – In addition to the details described in alternatives C and D, this AFA would add new CSKT staff positions, expanding CSKT’s involvement in management activities while adding to the Service’s management capabilities. CSKT-recruited staff would be involved in all operations on the refuge complex, including adding new CSKT positions to manage the district (the Ninepipe and Pablo Refuges and the nine waterfowl production areas). All work of the refuge complex would be accomplished under the direction, leadership, and day-to-day supervision of the Service refuge manager or deputy refuge manager and Service program leaders in accordance with approved Service plans and policies.

The document can be downloaded from the refuge complex’s website: www.fws.gov/bisonrange. Comments should be specific and reference the relevant document section where possible. Comments may be submitted by email to bisonrange@fws.gov or mailed to National Bison Range, 58355 Bison Range Rd., Moiese, MT 59824. All comments must be emailed or postmarked by September 18, 2014.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit www.fws.gov

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