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PEER bison range lawsuit settled

Settlement sets timetable for statutorily-required CCP

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PABLO – The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has settled a lawsuit with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) regarding the National Bison Range. The settlement creates a five-year timetable for the completion of a statutorily-required Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) and accompanying Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the National Bison Range.

The settlement does not require or address a CCP for any of the other three Refuges in the National Bison Range Complex, but the Service has already begun preparing a CCP for those Refuges along with the Bison Range CCP.

“The Tribes are pleased that the Service is in the process of completing a Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the National Bison Range, as well as completing a plan for the other three refuges that make up the National Bison Range Complex,” said Tribal Chairman Ronald Trahan. “The Tribes have long been on record urging the Service to complete these Plans. We are a cooperating agency for the Service in the development of these plans and we look forward to working with them on the plans, as well as on the related environmental analyses.”

The National Bison Range Complex consists of the National Bison Range, the Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, the Pablo National Wildlife Refuge, and the Lost Trail National Wildlife Refuge, as well as ancillary wetlands management districts in Lake and Flathead Counties. All of the refuges except the Lost Trail Refuge are located on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Both the Ninepipe and Pablo refuges are located on Tribally-owned lands which are held in trust by the United States. Neither Ninepipe nor Pablo have on-site federal workers stationed there.

In its requested relief, PEER asked the court to order the Service to complete a CCP for the National Bison Range. The group did not similarly request that a CCP be prepared for the other refuges in the National Bison Range Complex.

“It is telling that the only comprehensive conservation plan that PEER requested in its litigation and settlement is for the National Bison Range, which has almost all of the staff in the National Bison Range Complex and which has been the focus of Tribal contracting and legislative activities,” said CSKT Communications Director Robert McDonald.  “While it claims to be concerned about conservation, PEER does not appear to be as concerned about the natural resources at the other three refuges in the complex.”

In 2016, the Service had expressed support for exploring the idea of legislatively transferring the National Bison Range to the Tribes, to be held in trust by the United States and to continue to be managed by the Tribes for bison conservation purposes. The Tribes drafted legislation titled the National Bison Range Restoration Act and held a public comment period, as well as a public meeting, for the draft bill. In April of last year, Secretary Ryan Zinke indicated that the Interior Department would no longer explore such a legislative transfer. In so doing, he stated that “the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will play a pivotal role in our discussions about the best path forward. We can do a far better job expanding access and informing the public about the National Bison Range. CSKT will be instrumental in helping make this significant place a true reflection of our cultural heritage.”

The Tribes’ expertise and proven track record in wildlife management, along with their deep connection to the bison and the range, provide a wealth of resources for enhancing the Refuge. CSKT has and will continue to take an active role in the development of the CCP as well as a greater role Refuge management.

“The Tribes will continue to seek participation at the Bison Range, as the land and the bison there are integral to our history, our culture and our reservation,” noted Chairman Trahan.

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