Dying in Indian Country - th eRoland Morris Story

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History of the National Bison Range

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What's Really Going on at the National Bison Range?

What is the controversy?  Matt Gouras, Reporter for the Associated Press, wrote in November of 2006 "The American Indian tribe that has shared management of the nation’s only federal wildlife refuge for bison wants to ditch the unusual arrangement and take over full management. But the Interior Department said negotiations are on hold until ‘‘significant’’ personnel issues are resolved." We hope that the following background and PDF Documents will clarify some issues for America's park vistors.

     - Help us Maintain this Site -

The National Bison Range

Setting precedence for federal park and refuge land all over the nation

Documents listed below

UPDATE:  LAWSUIT - re: Tribal Management of the National Bison Range - Press Release Dec. 8, 2008: Go to www.peer.org to donate on line or call 202-265-7337 to make a donation

Unverified Comment on the AFA , Sept. 2, 2008: By November, all USFWS employees will have been transferred to other national refuges and the CSKT will not send anyone until next spring.  The only person that might remain is Darrel Thomas who will work for the CSKT.  ... Jeff King, brother to Mitch King, will come as the project leader.  ...The inner personnel agreement (IPA) for the USFWS workers do not protect them and leaves them at the mercy of the CSKT.  It is a tragedy that no one will talk about.


July 25, 2008: National Wildlife Refuge Association - " NWRA is currently evaluating a new Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) signed between the FWS and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) on June 19th for the National Bison Range in northwestern Montana. The agreement comes prior to the issuance of a national AFA policy by the FWS – the lack of such a policy contributed to the breakdown of a previous AFA at the Bison Range between the CSKT and the FWS in December 2006.  The NWRA has repeatedly called for a national AFA policy for the FWS that would guide how such agreements are managed, and ensure that they advance the mission and purposes of the refuge and Refuge System. Under the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994, native tribes can enter into AFAs with agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the FWS at national wildlife refuges. The National Bison Range agreement, which outlines how the CSKT will partner with the FWS at the Range for the next three years (fiscal years 2009 – 2011), is awaiting Congressional review for 90 days prior to implementation. NWRA expects to release its detailed comments soon, and will focus on whether the agreement advances the mission and purposes of the refuge and the Refuge System.

From Susan Reneau, July 25, 2008 - "...the agreement put into place at the National Bison Range starting October 1 IS THE NATIONAL POLICY governing annual funding agreements with sovereign and self-governance Indian tribes.  ...the DOI and top officials at the FWS are using the National Bison Range agreement AS THE NATIONAL POLICY.  There won’t be anything else." Questions from Susan: "...the CSKT do not plan to send any workers to do the work assigned to them until next spring 2009.  What happens to the money set aside to do the work that must continue?  Does the CSKT receive the money before they arrive next spring?  How can this be an AFA for this fall, winter and spring if they don’t come until late spring 2009?" "This “annual” funding agreement is for three years and after three years the federal workers loaned to the CSKT will be replaced completely by CSKT workers, according to the agreement.  ... the CSKT gained inherently federal positions in this agreement..."

New AFA for the National Bison Range was signed June 19, 2008 and goes into effect October 1, 2008.

From Susan Reneau, May 21, 2008 - "FWS has been under the gun for five years of pressure by a sovereign Indian government to turn over inherently federal positions.  Any job with a GS rating is inherently federal because it is advertised throughout the Civil Service with standard duties and experience and educational requirements.  Since February 2003 FWS has been strongly forced to give such duties as well as operational budgets to [a] sovereign government that was given half the operational budget and half the inherently federal jobs in FY 2005 and 2006....please continue to e-mail, call and fax Lyle Laverty, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, and anyone else you can think might be interested in this subject to stop this secret negotiation and remind Mr. Tester that what he is pushing is illegal and a trampling of the human rights of the FWS employees.


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Documents and Articles:

                  - Grievance Appeal Filed; New Threats Against Employees -  

                                             - With Related FWS PDF Document Links -

                                           - With Related FWS PDF Document Links -

                   - Joint Complaint of Tribe Trying to Drive Off Staff in Order to Take Over Their Jobs

                                           - With Related FWS PDF Document Links -

- What You Can Do to Help -

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January 2007 - FWS staff at the NBR filed a federal grievance in the fall of 2006, alleging abuse by staff members from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.   In reaction to this and a government report citing gross mismanagement, FWS officials pulled the management agreement away from the CSKT in December.  More Below.

However, for reasons unclear, the Dept. of Interior quickly moved to reinstate the Tribe on December 30, 2006.  A meeting was scheduled with top level officials January 22 - 23, 2007 at NBR offices.

January 2007 - Leo Giacometto, former Chief of Staff for former US Senator Conrad Burns from 1995 to 1999, has hired Burns as a "Consultant" in his lobbying firm, the Giacometto Group.  The Giacometto Group also paid another Burns Staffer, former Legislative Director and Campaign Manager, Mark Baker, $40,000 to lobby for the Salish and Kootenai College in 2004.  The Salish and Kootenai College is located on the Flathead Reservation, home of both the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe and the National Bison Range.   Working through his own Helena firm, Mark Baker was also paid $60,000 to be chief lobbyist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in 2003-2004 and $120,000 lobbying for CSKT's S&K Technologies during those same years More below

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If you would like to help:

Join the Blue Goose Alliance:


Phone: 360-432-8807


The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER),

a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers. land managers, and other professionals, has stepped up with funds to help out the National Bison Range employees with their lawsuit.

Their website is: www.peer.org   

Phone: 202-265-7337

Please pass along this information to anyone who wants to help.

Remember to keep calling the U.S. Department of Interior

in support of FWS Director Dale Hall and his wise decision to permanently terminate the contract with the CSKT at the National Bison Range.

Always be polite.

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne: 202-208-7351,

Deputy Assistant Sec. of Interior for Indian Affairs Jim Casin: 202-208-6291,

Deputy Sec. of Interior Lynn Scarlett: 202-208-4203, lynn_scarlett@ios.doi.gov  , Fax: 202-208-6956

US Representative Denny Rehberg: 406-543-9550 ;

Rehberg Aide Keli McQuiston: 406-543-9550. 

Rehberg Aide Erik Iverson: erik.iverson@mail.house.gov  ;

Billings Field Office at 406-256-1019

Encourage the National Bison Range staff:  406-644-2211, ext. 0















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-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, August 20, 2008 7:01 AM

... The signing of an Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) between Assistant Secretary of Interior Lyle Laverty and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) on June 19, 2008 was an action that has left us rather speechless.

That AFA essentially assigns total management control, along with budgets, of the National Bison Range Complex of refuges to the CSKT for a period of three years (until 2011).  It is difficult for me to come to terms with this action.  Particularly since Mr. Laverty assured a delegation from the BGA of myself, Eileen McLaughlin and Bill Reffalt, at a meeting in his office on April 15, 2008, that
such total capitulation would not occur.  His assurance was echoed by Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dale Hall two days later at a meeting in his office on April 17, 2008.

The implications of this action goes far beyond the loss of an icon of the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The centennial of the establishment of the Bison Range occurred on May 23, 2008 with little fanfare.  Alliance members Bill and Christine Reffalt, and Don and Evelyn Redfearn were in attendance to mark the occasion.   The Department of the Interior and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service was represented by one individual, Mr. Dean Rundel from the Denver Regional Office of the FWS.  He was the chief negotiator for the FWS on development of the AFA.

..From all appearances his real purpose for being in attendance was to advise refuge staff members of choices available to them once the refuge is turned over to the CSKT.  In retrospect, there was no ceremony extolling the value and purposes of the Bison Range and the National Wildlife Refuge System.  The Bison Range was the first refuge where the land was actually purchased and established by an Act of Congress.  Historically, the effort here served to save an endangered species long before the birth of the Endangered Species Act.

A more accurate characterization of what occurred on that centennial afternoon was a wake for the demise of a symbol of what protection of America's wildlife heritage is all about.  Refuge Manager Bill West hosted a reporter from the Missoulian a few days before that resulted in a far more accurate account about the meaning and the value of the Bison Range.

The only thing I can add at this time is that the Alliance is exploring all options available to us in rescinding this unconscionable and illegal AFA.  It is time for everyone who understands and values the Nation's wildlife refuges, where wildlife is first, to come together to stop this AFA and any other such actions that threaten the integrity of the System.

Don Redfearn

August 20, 2008

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PUBLIC LANDS: Tribal officials, FWS reach agreement on National Bison Range (06/19/2008)

Patrick Reis, Land Letter reporter 

Officials from the Confederation Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have negotiated an agreement to return some control over the National Bison Range Complex to tribes in an arrangement that could have implications for tribal governments on federal lands nationwide.

The annual funding agreement -- expected to be announced later today -- increases the tribe's responsibility for infrastructure maintenance, fire-suppression work and bison management on the range, which is located within the tribal reservation north of Missoula, Mont. A tribal official will occupy one of the two newly created deputy director positions, and three-quarters of the complex's jobs will be held by tribal members, according to CSKT spokesman Rob McDonald.

The annual funding agreement comes nearly two years after FWS terminated the tribe's role on the ranch. In a December 2006 letter, FWS accused the tribes of underfeeding and improperly managing bison, allowing range infrastructure to crumble and failing to plan biological studies.

The National Bison Range is home to about 350 to 500 bison. Photo courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service.   

The debate grew nasty, as service employees accused their tribal co-workers of attempting to drive them out to make room for more tribal employees. FWS employees filed a grievance with the agency's regional office in September 2006 detailing the charges, and the ensuing investigation substantiated the charges. FWS sided with its employees, saying they faced constant intimidation and harassment.

The problems, according to Interior Department Undersecretary Lyle Laverty, stemmed from a failure on both sides to delineate and clarify tribal responsibilities. "The structure was there; we just didn't get all the pieces defined with the clarity we needed to," Laverty said.

Laverty held a series of meetings beginning in December that led to the new agreement, which will be delivered to Congress for a 90-day comment period and could take effect as soon as Oct. 1.

Laverty says that while the new agreement increases tribal responsibility on the land, ultimate control still rests at FWS. 

No oversight, enforcement 

But Jeff Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has his doubts. Previous agreements, according to Ruch, weakened preservation measures because they lacked oversight and enforcement mechanisms over tribal management. And while he has not yet seen the new one, he fears it will be more of the same.

"The basic problem is that Interior hasn't come to grips with: To the extent they have done these negotiations as sovereign to sovereign, they have no effective measure of ensuring that it's managed as a national wildlife area," Ruch said. "We suggest that they look at cooperative agreement, that they're treated more like contracts, with provisions like liquidated damage, ability to withhold payments for failure of service, the kinds of things taxpayers expect when they pay others for important work."

But McDonald says the federal government cannot treat the tribes as a private contractor because they are a sovereign nation. "This agreement is the same as if FWS were letting a state run a wildlife refuge. We're a government. This isn't us as a private contractor having a couple Indians fill a couple jobs," he said. "We are not getting access to own the land. We must still run it up to the federal standards."

Instead, McDonald blames longstanding fears of tribes retaking control of lands. "Some people have the impression that when an Indian tribe has control over non-tribal members, they'll exact some type of revenge," he said. "We've never been about that." McDonald said the tribes had taken control of other local projects amid initial opposition, only to please everyone in the end.

But Ruch says ethnic conflicts have nothing to do with it. "I think this is a legitimate dispute over how these arrangements are going to be handled. I think the fault is with the Department of the Interior, not with the tribes," he said. "Interior hasn't thought out how they want these things to operate. They don't have any policy, they don't have any guidelines."

Ruch says the lack of coordination amounts to a piecemeal giveaway of treasured wildlife areas and parks. "[Interior] makes scores of public lands available every year, and if each is handled as badly as this one, it's going to be a disaster."

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For Immediate Release                                                                            Contact: Desiree Sorenson-Groves
June 19, 2008                                                                                                       dgroves@refugeassociation.org
                                                                                                                           (202) 333-9075

NWRA Hopeful for Successful FWS/Tribal Partnership at
National Bison Range, MT

Washington, DC - The National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA) expressed hope today that the newly signed Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) for the National Bison Range in Montana between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will successfully advance the mission and purposes of the refuge and the Refuge System, while meeting NWRA's core criteria for tribal agreements.

"Our hope is that this agreement will result in a National Bison Range that thrives in achieving its vital wildlife conservation mission," said Evan Hirsche, President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association. "Yet, we remain concerned that such an agreement may be implemented absent a national FWS policy governing such partnerships."

The NWRA has repeatedly called for a national AFA policy for the FWS that would guide how such agreements are managed, and ensure that they advance the mission and purposes of the refuge and Refuge System. The lack of such a policy contributed to the breakdown of a previous AFA at the Bison Range between the CSKT and the FWS in December 2006.

"A successful agreement must incorporate NWRA good governance recommendations such as ensuring the FWS retains inherently federal positions and line authority at the refuge, and clear standards of accountability for work performed by the tribes," said Hirsche. "In addition, funding for tribal work should be dependent on overall funding levels for the System and subject to FWS allocation priorities."

Under the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994, native tribes can enter into AFAs with agencies within the Department of the Interior, including the FWS at national wildlife refuges. The National Bison Range agreement, which outlines how the CSKT will partner with the FWS at the Range for the next three years (fiscal years 2009 - 2011), will be available for public comment and Congressional review for 90 days prior to implementation.

"We urge the FWS to expedite completion of a tribal agreement policy that incorporates NWRA good governance provisions, and include them in a final FWS/CSKT agreement," continued Hirsche. To view NWRA's AFA principles, visit www.refugeassociation.org. A full review of how the new agreement complies with these principles will be available in the coming days.

The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge Association is to conserve America's wildlife heritage for future generations through strategic programs that protect, enhance, and expand the National Wildlife Refuge System and the landscapes beyond its boundaries that secure its ecological integrity.

For more information, visit http://www.refugeassociation.org

View release online; click here.

Copyright © 2008 National Wildlife Refuge Association.


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Contact: David Lucas
Chief, Budget and Finance
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
(303) 236-4456

Rob McDonald
Communications Director
Salish-Kootenai Tribes
(406) 675-2700 ext. 1222
Cell phone 249-1818


June 19, 2008 


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation today signed an Annual Funding Agreement for the National Bison Range Complex, located in Moiese, Montana within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation.  The agreement was negotiated over the past six months by professional natural resource management staff from both parties with support from Service, Department of the Interior, and Tribal leadership, and outlines the activities the Tribes will perform at the Bison Range during fiscal years 2009 through 2011.   

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall and Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CKST) Chairman James Steele, Jr., signed the agreement earlier today during a ceremony in Washington, D.C. Also participating in the signing ceremony were Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Economic Development – Indian Affairs George Skibine, Regional Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region Stephen Guertin, and members of the Montana congressional delegation. 

“With this agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are entering into a new era of partnership and cooperation that will enhance the National Bison Range and its fish and wildlife resources for all Americans,” said Secretary Kempthorne.  “I commend Service and Tribal staff for moving forward and building on the expertise and strengths of both organizations to conserve this special place.” 

“The Bison Range occupies a special place in the hearts of Tribal members. I know the passion that they have for the land of their ancestors, and for the wildlife that sustained them. Fish and Wildlife Service employees also care passionately about the future of the Bison Range, and I strongly believe this agreement will serve to bring everyone together to accomplish great things for the refuge,” said Service Director Hall. 

“This represents the latest step in the Tribes’ fourteen-year journey towards partnering with the Fish & Wildlife Service at the National Bison Range,” Steele, CSKT Chairman, said. “We believe that, as partners, we can make a special place even more special.  Our Tribes’ unique history with this particular bison herd, and our ownership of the land upon which the ancillary Ninepipe and Pablo Refuges are located, provides both our motivation for stewardship and our ability to add another dimension to the National Bison Range Complex.” 

The annual funding agreement was negotiated pursuant to the 1994 Tribal Self-Governance Act. The Act provides qualified self-governing tribes who demonstrate a significant cultural, geographic, and historical connection to facilities managed by the Department of the Interior with the opportunity to assume certain programs, services, functions, and activities at those facilities, including units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.   

The CSKT is assuming a substantive role in managing mission-critical programs at the Bison Range.  The Bison Range Manager will remain a Service employee and have final decision-making authority on management direction, approval of plans, refuge uses and priorities. A Refuge Leadership Team, comprised of wildlife and land management professionals from both organizations, will inform those decisions. 

Examples of the activities CSKT will perform on the Bison Range under the agreement include the annual Bison Round-up; migratory non-game bird surveys; waterfowl pair counts; bird banding; vegetation monitoring; geographic information system mapping; invasive plant control; wildfire suppression and prescribed burning; dissemination of oral and written information to visitors about the Bison Range, the National Wildlife Refuge System, the Service, and the CSKT’s relationship to the Range and its resources; and, other biological and related activities. 

It is important to note that the emerging partnership between the Service and CSKT is a government-to-government relationship and is not a move toward privatization of the Bison Range. The Bison Range will remain a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Service will maintain ownership of and management authority over all lands and buildings at the Bison Range and will retain law enforcement authorities on Bison Range lands and waters.  

The annual funding agreement will be transmitted to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee for a 90-day Congressional review period. Following review by the committees and any other interested member of Congress, the AFA will be phased in during the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2009. 

The National Bison Range Complex, part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, consists of the National Bison Range, Pablo and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuges, and a portion of the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District.  Established in 1908 to conserve the American Bison, the Bison Range and ancillary properties provide important habitat for a variety of other species such as elk, pronghorn antelope and migratory birds.  This agreement applies only to those units that lie within the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation, including the National Bison Range; Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge and Pablo National Wildlife Refuge. Ninepipe and Pablo are overlay refuges on CSKT land and the Service operates those areas through conservation easements from CSKT.  

Notice of the agreement will be published in the Federal Register in the near future.  The agreement may currently be obtained on-line at: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/cskt-fws-negotiation or by contacting the Bison Range at: National Bison Range, 132 Bison Range Road, Moiese, MT 59824; (406) 644-2211; or the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, P.O. Box 278, Pablo, MT 59855; (406) 675-2700.  

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service is both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for its scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on the Service’s work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov. 

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are comprised of the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Kootenai Tribes.  The Tribes occupy the 1.3 million acre Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana.  

CSKT is a leader in environmental protection and conservation. CSKT is the first tribe in the U.S. to estab­lish a designated wilderness area; manages large herds of wild elk and bighorn sheep and oversees hunting and fishing programs on the Reservation for both Indians and non-Indians; administers a comprehensive mitigation program to offset the impacts of local hydropower operations on fish and wildlife resources; and, has for two decades partnered with the Service to conduct migratory waterfowl surveys and rebuild regional Canada goose populations. 

For more information on the Tribes, visit www.cskt.org.


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Grievance Appeal Filed; New Threats Against Employees

For Immediate Release: January 18, 2007
Contact: Carol Goldberg

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

News Release (www.peer.org)

Washington, DC — Employees of the National Bison Range Complex are seeking formal review of their charges of abuse and intimidation during the recently terminated joint operation with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), according to correspondence released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition to filing a formal grievance, the attorney for refuge employees reports new threats and promises of retaliation.

On September 19, 2006, seven employees at the National Bison Range filed an unusual joint grievance with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. On December 11, 2006, the Service cancelled the troubled 18 month-long arrangement with the tribes citing both non-performance and harassment of refuge employees. Shortly thereafter, on December 29, the Interior Department, the parent agency over the Service, intervened and reversed the Service’s decision, announcing its “intention to reestablish a working relationship” with the CSKT.

All this time, the National Bison Range employees had no word on the status or outcome of their grievance. In a letter dated January 17, 2007 to Interior, the refuge employees’ attorney, Elizabeth Baker of the Hughes, Kellner, Sullivan & Alke law-firm based in Helena, noted that the agency has yet to –

In a January 3, 2007 letter, Ms. Baker cites a threat to one of her clients that he will “know who the boss is now” following Interior’s announcement to re-open negotiations with CSKT.

“It is obvious that the Interior Department is in regular contact with the CSKT but is ignoring its own employees—and that is just not right,” stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program. “Interior owes the folks out at the National Bison Range straight answers about how it will specifically guarantee against the reoccurrence of this type of abuse.”

The grievance filing is subject to a seven-day technical review, which then triggers a 20-day period for FWS to issue a decision. Following the agency’s decision, the employees may request a formal evidentiary hearing before a personnel appeals examiner in the Interior Office of Hearings and Appeals. Next week, top Interior officials are slated to begin discussions about restoring funding for shared operations of the refuge with the CSKT.


Read the January 3, 2007 letter describing new threats and uncertainties facing Bison Range employees

View the January 17, 2007 letters announcing the grievance appeal and other outstanding issues

Trace the growing problems at National Bison Range

See FWS grievance procedures

Read the National Bison Range Complex Annual Funding Agreement Report

See the protest letter about the agreement composed by refuge managers

Look at the concerns about escalating costs

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Abuses at National Bison Range Confirmed by Investigation 

Threats, Intimidation and Safety Concerns Documented in Independent Report


For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Contact:   Grady Hocutt; Carol Goldberg

Washington, DC — An investigation commissioned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confirmed a severe pattern of intimidation and abuse of its employees during its recently terminated joint operation of the National Bison Range Complex with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Incidents detailed in the investigation include vulgar remarks to female employees, “physically threatening behavior,” and promises to “run these f—ers (FWS employees) out of here.”

The investigation was conducted by Jim Reilly, the retired Special Agent-in-Charge of the National Park Service law enforcement program for the Rocky Mountain region.   Reilly told FWS management that “conditions [at National Bison Range] are as bad as he has ever seen during his career” and that his 40-page investigation report only “‘scratch the surface’ of the conditions that [FWS] employees are enduring on a daily basis.”  He also cited growing safety concerns for both staff and visitors.

In a memo dated December 6, 2006, FWS Regional Director Mitch King concluded that “involvement in the violations by CSKT management” “make it almost impossible” to resolve.  CSKT refused to cooperate with the investigation and forbade any of its employees from being interviewed.  King recommended immediate cessation of the nearly two-year funding agreement; an action FWS took on December 11th.  Later that month, however, the Interior Department announced that it planned to negotiate a new agreement with the CSKT but did not spell out how it would address the abuse of its employees. 

FWS perceives the situation as so intractable that FWS Deputy Regional Director Jay Slack suggested “divestiture of the refuge lands and property to CSKT” as an alternative if the funding agreement with CSKT was not cancelled.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service did the right thing by canceling this agreement, but political pull by the tribes has put the same menu back on the table, without the slightest hint that things will be any different,” stated Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge program.  “If the tribes will not admit that there is a problem, how is it possible for the problem to be fixed?”

Fearful employees at National Bison Range are already seeking transfers to other wildlife refuges.  In addition, the Interior Department has not officially informed them of either the outcome or the proposed resolution of the grievance that the employees filed back in September.  In the coming weeks, Interior officials will resume negotiations with the CSKT but the affected employees will not be a party to those discussions.

“Refuge employees should not be subjected to another day of abuse,” Hocutt added.  “The Interior officials who overruled their own Fish & Wildlife Service need to provide some mutually acceptable assurances to these public servants that they will not be run through the gauntlet again.”


Peruse the FWS transmittal letter


Read the Investigation Executive Summary


View the request by FWS Regional Director to cancel CSKT agreement


Look at the FWS letter terminating the CSKT presence at National Bison Range


See the Interior Department reversing its own agency and pledging to renew agreement


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Report details bison range charges

January 10, 2007
By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian

POLSON - The only way the National Bison Range can function is under the control of either the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the service's regional director told his boss last month.

Shortly thereafter, FWS director Dale Hall canceled the annual funding agreement that for 14 tumultuous months had divided work at the refuge between the service and CSKT employees.

In his letter to Hall, Mitch King said unacceptable working conditions created by CSKT involvement at the range, concern for visitor safety and unacceptable work performed by tribal employees during the 14 months - plus the fact that the tribes would still have to operate under FWS oversight - led him to conclude that returning the range entirely to the Fish and Wildlife Service was “the only viable option at this time.”

The tribes have strongly disputed the FWS conclusions, and the Department of the Interior, which oversees the FWS, agreed and announced Dec. 29 it was overturning Hall's decision and would seek to reinstate another funding agreement that would have FWS and tribal employees again working side-by-side.

In Interior documents obtained and released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, King also said he considered recommending complete divestiture of the public lands and property that make up the National Bison Range to CSKT, but said that would require congressional action.

PEER, which strongly opposes outside involvement in the day-to-day operation of the refuge, also released an executive summary of an investigation by Jim Reilly, retired special agent-in-charge of the National Park Service law enforcement program for the Rocky Mountain region, that detailed allegedly vulgar and offensive language, and intimidating tactics made, on the part of tribal employees working at the refuge.

The report, which spokesman Rob McDonald said the tribes have wanted to see since its completion but hadn't been given access to, “Does not match up with the internal conversations we've had with our people. There is no doubt there has been tension at the range, but nothing remotely like what they're talking about in that report.”

For instance, he said, an incident cited in the report that alleged a tribal employee had tried to intimidate a FWS biologist by kicking the door and outer walls to her office wasn't likely, given that “her office is at the end of a trailer that's 4 1/2 feet off the ground. I don't think we have anyone who can kick that high.”

McDonald noted that the investigation report released by PEER “was deemed flawed by (the Department of the Interior), and needed to be redone.” The Interior Department's Office of Equal Opportunity is re-investigating, he said.

The executive summary of the report obtained by PEER, labeled “Draft Not For Release,” includes seven references to the F-word and alleges tribal employees also used derogatory terms to refer to women and black people.

“We did our own internal questioning of people, and nothing described matches anything that we experienced,” McDonald said. “We sound like terrible people in the report, and it doesn't sound like the people I know. We're thankful these things were tossed out.”

Tribal employees did not talk to Reilly while he was conducting his investigation, McDonald said, because “We were very uncomfortable answering questions without knowing what the allegations were against us. We cooperated fully, but we didn't want our people in the unenviable position of being interviewed on who-knows-what. We thought it only fair we be told what the allegations were. We made many requests but were denied that.”

The tribes have filed appeals, McDonald said, to letters sent to CSKT on Dec. 6 and 11 that reference the report asking they be removed.

“We felt it was important to go back and have the record corrected,” McDonald says.

Fish and Wildlife employees filed a grievance with the service last fall over working conditions.

Meantime, a former project manager at the bison range who retired from the Fish and Wildlife Service last week spoke out for the first time.

Dave Wiseman blamed both the Department of the Interior and the tribes for the problems at the refuge.

“DOI says it is fulfilling an obligation to the tribes, but there is no legal requirement” mandating the tribes be given any role at the refuge, Wiseman says. “It's entirely discretionary, but that's not the way they're implementing it. What they're doing is cramming it down the Fish and Wildlife Service's throat, and everybody in the region knows it to be the case.”

The tribes, meanwhile, don't want a cooperative relationship to succeed, Wiseman claims, because their goal is complete control of the range.

“I'd say it hasn't worked because the tribe doesn't want it to work,” says Wiseman, who managed the bison range from 1995-2004 and was involved in all negotiations between the federal government and the tribes concerning the refuge during that time.

“From the beginning of the negotiations they told us there was not going to be a partnership,” Wiseman says. “They always intended to get everything. What changed was they were willing to compromise in order to get a foot in the door. The tribes had a tremendous opportunity to be partners at the bison range, but they told us early on there was never going to be any partnership.”

The tribes' desire to take over control of the bison range has never been a secret, McDonald says. But the notion that, after finally getting to do some of the work at the refuge, that they would do it poorly or not at all makes no sense if CSKT retains any hope of running the show one day.

“He's entirely accurate that the only legal requirement was that we be given the right to negotiate for control,” McDonald says of Wiseman. “But we realized early on, given the tenor and tone of the negotiations, that we were not in a position to name our terms on how we would participate, and we would have to work toward whatever opportunity came our way. We've overcome so many obstacles in other issues and our employees were dedicated to make this joint agreement work.”

Wiseman agrees with King that the two sides can't work together, because different rules and regulations apply to federal and tribal employees. Nepotism isn't illegal in tribal hiring practices, he says, while it's against federal law. The tribes can put people with criminal records to work at the range, but FWS can't. If the Fish and Wildlife Service objects to someone who's been hired at the range, the tribes make it clear they get to decide who works for them.

“Federal law doesn't allow Fish and Wildlife Service employees to be placed in a hostile working environment,” Wiseman says. “But the law doesn't say the tribes can't create one.”

King, who once praised the CSKT Wildlife Program, saying it was as good as many state fish and wildlife agencies, and who predicted the partnership at the bison range would be a success, did not return phone calls seeking his comments on the letter urging the termination of the annual funding agreement.

Late Tuesday, the Department of the Interior issued a statement through press secretary Shane Wolfe in response to PEER's release of the documents earlier in the day.

“The Department of the Interior, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation have been working together to manage all the responsibilities related to the National Bison Range,” it said. “Over time, this has been a working relationship that appeared to be positive and productive.

“Recent allegations raised by employees at the National Bison Range of harassment and a hostile work environment are serious. These allegations demand an investigation that meets the highest standards possible. Senior departmental officials immediately referred the allegations and an associated preliminary Fish and Wildlife Service report to the department's Office of Equal Opportunity for a full and comprehensive investigation that will meet such standards. Department officials also made the department's inspector general aware of issues related to the National Bison Range and he is taking appropriate action.

“As previously announced, the department intends to re-establish a working relationship between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation regarding management and operation of the National Bison Range. We must seek to build the foundations for future management in a way that fulfills all of the department's obligations - to the refuge and its employees, to tribes, and to the American public. The process that will be followed in re-establishing this relationship is spelled out in the department's Dec. 21st press release available at www.doi.gov.”

That release said an ombudsman would be retained at the range, and negotiations that could lead to full tribal control “would be suspended at this time.”

McDonald said the tribes and federal officials were in “pre-negotiation status, getting the playing field ready where we can hammer out a new agreement to get tribal members back on the range.”

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January 18, 2007

PABLO -The Tribes have filed an administrative appeal to correct the record abOOt statements made regarding Tribal management of the National Bison Range (NBR).   The CSKTfiled the appeal with the Interior Board of Indian Apeals, requesting that it vacate U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Regional Director Mitch King's Dec. 11 , 2006 decision to terminate the contracting agreement at the NBR.

Correcting the record of facts is crucial to the Tribes , according to alan. 16 press release.  "People who oppose the Tribal presence at the Bison Range can only coast on unsupported allegations for so long,"'said Tribal Chairman James Steele, Jr. "This has been a classic echo chamber - instead of talking with us about allegations, a number of individuals within the Fish & Wildlife Service just recycle the allegations in various memos and reports until they appeared factual.. The Tribes need to correct the record of our performance at the Bison Range and we will do so through the administrative process.
According to the news release, there's been a pattern developing in which FWS staff allegations surface when it apears that the Tribes are making progress towards a new contracting agreement for the NBR.  Last fall, when some FWS employees heard that the Service was considering a proposal for CSKT to assume full local management of the bison range, a mysterious grievance was suddenly filed that alleged CSKT staff were creating a hostile work environment.

The requested relief was for the agreement between the FWS and CSKT to be terminated -not the normal solu:tion for addressing a hostile workplace, the release states. The FWS has never provided a copy of the allegations to CSKT.  Tribal officials have repeatedly requested the information.  "One would think that some mention of these mysterious allegations, or the alleged hostile workplace, would have suraced sometime during the previous year and a half of the Tribes' presence at the Bison Range," said Chairman Steele. "There was certainly a great deal of scrutiny towards the Tribal workers performance. Yet, strangely, there was no mention of a hostile workplace or any other significant personnel issues during that whole time."
Now, on the heels of a Dec. 29 announcement that the Department of the Interior would re-establish the partnership between the FWS and CSKT, more allegations have suddenly surfaced.  This time, according to the Jan. 16 press release, more documents full of allegations but short on facts are being released by individuals and organizations who have always opposed the Tribes' presence at the NBR.
This latest round of :accusations again auempts to portray tribal staff as creating a hostile work environment for their federal supervisors at the bison range. "This has been a surreal and at times hurtful experience for the Tribal staff at the Bison Range," said Tribal communications Director Robert McDonald, "The very people who have made our work at the Bison Range so difficult are now claiming that we created a hostile workplace for them."
"Anyone who examines the record will see that FWS has no solid reason for not sharing the allegations with CSKT ," Tuesday' s news release states "Not having the allegations has prevented the Tribes (from responding) , that is if a problem ever truly existed. 

"The Interior Department has looked at these draft investigation documents and seen them for what they are."

The Department's Office of Civil Rights has ordered that the grievance allegations be investigated by the Department's Equal Employment Opportunity counselors who are completely independent of FWS. CSKT welcomes a neutral third- party investigation, and we have been in contact with the E EO counselor assigned to investigate this issue."
The Tribes have also communicated with the Department's Office of the Inspector General, with respect to its investigation.  "We look forward to working with the E EO and OIG investigators and correcting the record so we can repair the damage done to CSKT's reputation," said Chairman Steele.
The Jan. 16 press release lists the following issues that have yet to be discussed by any of the newly-released documents: 

  - Prior to CSKT being abruptly ejected from the Bison Range in December, the Regional Director made no effort to share with CSKT the allegations upon which he acted. There was no opportunity provided for CSKT to correct or rebut those allegations.   Other than what is discussed in the newly released documents, CSKT still does not know the exact basis of the allegations.

  - In an exhaustive 2005 "evaluation" written by FWS staff at the Bison Range, there are no allegations of anything like harassment, intimidation, discrimination, or a hostile work environmient. These allegations suddenly appeared in the fall of 2006 after some FWS employees learned of a proposal for CSKT to assume full local management of the Bison Range; Ratheithan sharing these allegations with CSKT for investigation and response,the FWS Regional Office instead decided to terminate the agreement with no notice to CSKT.

  - CSKT's Bison Range Coordinator, Sheila Matt, who supervises all the Tribal staff and volunteers, has eight years of service on Equal Employment and Civil Rights Advisory Committees during her previous position as a federal employee. In that capacity , she receiyed a great deal of equal employment opportunity training.and also received awards and recognition fother work in that field. Prior to taking the job as CSKT's Bison Range Coo.rdinator, she was a consultant for the State of Montana 'and made presentations on equal employment opportunity issues."

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Agreement on bison range management might be reinstated

Article published Dec 30, 2006

By GWEN FLORIO, Great Falls Tribune Capitol Bureau

HELENA — The agreement between the Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes to share some management duties at the National Bison Range, which was abruptly canceled earlier this month, may be reinstated, the Interior Department announced Friday.

"This is a great morale-booster for us and to the tribal employees" who lost their Bison Range jobs when the agreement was canceled, said tribal Chairman James Steele. Jr. The tribes had felt "broadsided" by the earlier action, he said.

Interior officials said Friday that they want to re-establish a working relationship between the tribes and Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the Bison Range. The new plan would be very much like the former one — which engendered considerable controversy from its inception — in which the tribes cared for the bison and did maintenance work on the range.

However, a plan to permanently phase in the tribe's role has been suspended, according to the announcement by Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall and Associate Deputy Interior Secretary Jim Cason.

The Salish-Kootenai had long-sought management of the roughly 19,000-acre range at Moiese, within the boundaries of western Montana's Flathead Indian Reservation.

They attained some responsibilities two years ago, and as part of that process replaced about half of the range's 25 longtime Fish and Wildlife Service employees with tribal workers. The agreement was criticized by conservation groups, which complained it was an attempt to wrest wildlife management duties from the federal government and put them into private hands.

Opponents complained that the tribal workers weren't trained wildlife managers. A Fish and Wildlife Service performance review gave the tribes poor marks in some areas. Meanwhile, some Fish and Wildlife employees complained that they were harassed after the tribes became involved in management.

On Dec. 11, the tribes received a fax informing them the agreement was terminated. Friday, the tribes heard from news organizations that it was being reinstated before getting official word from the Interior.

Steele said tribal authorities have been in constant telephone contact with various officials in Washington, D.C., during the last couple of weeks.

Friday's announcement said that senior Interior officials, including Hall and Cason, would travel to the range to discuss the concerns of both tribal and Fish and Wildlife Service employees. It also said the range would retain an ombudsman to resolve conflicts.

That didn't mollify Susan Reneau of Missoula, a member of the Blue Goose Alliance that opposes outside involvement in Bison Range management.

"The fact that conservationists and environmentalists have been unified in opposition to this contract speaks a lot to the complexity of this situation," she said. "This isn't over."

Steele said he hopes the new agreement means that tribal workers will get back their jobs at the Bison Range. As for an ombudsman, he said the tribes are used to what they felt were the insults lobbed at them during the process.

"We have, as a tribal people, had to deal with hard feelings for 200 years. We've learned how to adapt," Steele said. "Now it's time to move on."

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FWS pulls National Bison Range pact

December 12, 2006

By PERRY BACKUS of the Missoulian

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially pulled its controversial agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for shared management of the National Bison Range on Monday, saying the tribes have failed to live up to their responsibilities and have created an unacceptable workplace environment.

Tribal officials said the announcement was unexpected and denied the allegations contained in FWS Regional Director Mitch King's letter.

“It's taken us off guard. We were in the middle of something and trying to make it work,” said CSKT Tribal Council Chairman James Steele Jr.

King's letter said the agency was terminating negotiations for future annual funding agreements. The letter ordered the tribes to immediately stop performing any activities at the Bison Range, return all FWS equipment, and withdraw all CSKT employees, contractors and volunteers from the refuge by the end of the workday Tuesday.

The decision marked the end of months of negotiations between the tribes and the Fish and Wildlife Service over future management of the National Bison Range.

The two entered into an agreement in 2004 that split management duties beginning in 2006. King's letter said the FWS wanted to continue that agreement into 2007 with some minor revisions, but the tribes argued for more management control.

After the 2006 agreement expired Sept. 30, the FWS agreed to extend it while negotiations continued.  The tribes sought a phased takeover of the refuge, which sits in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation, under provisions of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. The legislation allows tribes to apply to manage certain federal public lands where they can show a cultural, historical or geographic connection.

Matt Kales, a regional FWS spokesperson from Denver, said the legislation allows the government to sign annual funding agreements with tribes to manage selected federal lands.

While there are similar arrangements in other parts of the country, this agreement was the most far reaching, he said.

A report last summer indicated the tribes weren't satisfactorily accomplishing the work that had been agreed upon. The tribes vehemently disagreed with that report.

Kales said the FWS attempted to provide some leeway because this was the first year of the program, but the situation at the refuge continued to deteriorate. After a lengthy review, Kales said the tribes were not meeting management obligations and were creating a hostile work environment for FWS employees.

King's letter said the work environment was characterized by “harassing, offensive, intimidating and oppressive behavior on the part of the employees of the CSKT, including obscenity, fighting words and threats of violence and retaliation directed at employees of the Service.”

The decision was made at the “highest level” of the FWS that dual management of the refuge was not tenable, Kales said.

“This wasn't a hasty or whimsical decision,” he said.

Steele said the tribes don't agree with the Fish and Wildlife Service's reasons for terminating the agreement. This was the first time that anyone in the tribes had seen some of the allegations in King's letter, he said.    The FWS should have attempted to work within the guidelines established in the annual funding agreement to address the management issues with the tribes, he said.  “The AFA spells out ways of doing that,” Steele said. “There were ways to notify us and allow us to sit down and talk about these issues.”

The tribes are in the process of putting together a response to the allegations, and will appeal the decision, Steele said. In the short term, the tribes will attempt to find other work for the employees displaced by the federal government's action.

Steele said it's ironic that the FWS has decided the tribes are unable to manage the bison at the National Bison Range since the herd is descended from the Pablo-Allard herd cared for 100 years ago by tribal members.

“For the Fish and Wildlife Service to say to us that the Salish and Kootenai people do not know how to handle bison is just an ironic statement,” Steele said. “If it wasn't for the tribal connection, this herd likely wouldn't have been here in the first place.”

Tribal council member Steve Lozar said he grew up in Dixon in the “shadow of the Bison Range. I was one of those little kids who went over to see Big Medicine (a famous white bison) after school. When I see what's happening here, it absolutely hurts my heart. It's just wrong.”

The refuge management change was opposed by 129 refuge managers, by nearly 50 different environmental groups, and by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.  PEER's refuge keeper, Grady Hocutt, was a wildlife refuge manager for 30 years.  He says the agreement was a poor idea pushed by political appointees under duress and could have set a precedent harmful to the entire national wildlife refuge system.  Still, Hocutt didn't see the government's decision to pull the agreement as a victory. Too many people have been hurt, and it's going to take time for that to heal, he said.  There are other avenues for the tribes to be involved with management of those lands, including cooperative agreements and contracting, Hocutt said.

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Conrad Burns and the National Bison Range

Sent: Friday, May 12, 2006 7:11 PM

To the Editor

Mark Baker, former legislative director for Senator Conrad Burns and recent Burn's campaign chairman, was paid $60,000 to be chief lobbyist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in 2003-2004. Working through his Helena firm, Baker also made $120,000 lobbying for CSKT's S&K Technologies during those years and another $40,000 working for CSKT through the Giacmetto Group. Leo Giacometto was Burns' chief of staff from 1995-1999.

2003-2004 were the same years in which CSKT was negotiating with feds for management of the National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana.  Many who signed petitions and wrote letters asking Burns to oppose the transfer were confused as to why Burns had switched sides on the issue since 1997.   Denver FWS officials said Burns had the power to stop the transfer, and with his former statements in mind and the need for Western MT federal jobs to remain open to all, many expected that he would.

Whether or not one agrees with the transfer, few people really want Montana issues of importance to be made on the basis of who can afford the most influence.  The next time an issue is influenced, it could be something they themselves care about. 

In 1997, Burns not only stood against the NBR transfer, but he introduced a draft bill opposing tribal jurisdiction AND supported bill S. 1691, opposing Tribal Sovereign Immunity. At the time, Burns said tribal sovereign immunity interfered with Fifth Amendment rights. Now, Burns' staff has told Montana citizens that Burns won't support any legislation concerning tribal government unless all 500+ tribes agree to it.

According to a 2006 PoliticalMoneyLine.com report published in Roll Call, Senator Burns pocketed $192,090 from tribal entities over the last few years.

Lisa Morris

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Tribes seek total control of Bison Range


By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian

 MOIESE - Control of the National Bison Range is again on the negotiating table - and again sparking a fierce debate.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are talking with the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about a complete takeover of one of the nation's oldest wildlife refuges, which sits in the heart of the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The phased takeover would begin in 2007 and be completed by 2010.

More than a year ago, the tribes were given contracts for some duties at the Bison Range, in a cooperative management agreement that was extended in September. The agreement led to a controversial and critical evaluation of how well the tribes performed their duties to date.

It also prompted an ongoing investigation by the Interior Department into the possible misuse of federal funds by the tribes, and to a grievance filed with the Fish and Wildlife Service by some employees who claim the agency created a hostile work environment by entering into an agreement that promised the tribes control over more jobs if Fish and Wildlife Service employees left the Bison Range.

The tribes seek control of the Mission Valley refuge under provisions of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which allows them to apply to manage certain federal public lands where they can show either a cultural, historical or geographic connection.

“This is a cherished piece of land we watched be taken out of our hands decades ago,” said Rob McDonald, communications director for the tribes. “Twelve years ago, there was a shift of laws that said we could negotiate for this, and we have been talking about it. We have a direct cultural and historical link to this place.”

The takeover is opposed by 129 refuge managers from around the nation, by some 50 environmental groups such as Ducks Unlimited and the American Bird Conservancy, and by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a national nonprofit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers, land managers and other professionals whose stated goal is to uphold environmental laws and values.

PEER fears takeover of the National Bison Range would be a precedent-setting step that could begin, if not a dismantling, then a severe weakening of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

“Over 300 tribes theoretically could qualify to request takeovers around the country,” said spokesperson Grady Hocutt, a retired refuge manager. “Only a fool would argue Indian tribes can't meet one of the requirements - cultural, historical or geographic - virtually any place in this country. And they only have to meet one of the three. Imagine if this goes through, and this becomes the blueprint for dedicated trust lands owned by the public.”

But McDonald said only a handful of tribes can meet the criteria, and the federal government has spelled out which refuges tribes can apply to run.   The National Bison Range is one.

“I don't know what they're pointing at to make this domino effect happen,” McDonald said. “It sounds like they're using fear politics and slippery slope arguments.”

Hocutt makes it clear his organization is opposed to any outside group taking over refuges currently operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not just Indian tribes. PEER successfully fought a previous proposal to turn over a national wildlife refuge to the state of Kansas, he said.

“The anti-Indian flag is raised every time we stick our head up,” Hocutt said. “I'm saddened that the racism card gets played. It hurts. I spent 30 years managing refuges, and I worked with tribes from South Dakota to New York very successfully.”

Responds McDonald: “They say it's not personal, but then they say we could be the end of the world. I invite them to break bread with us and talk with us about how we would manage the Bison Range, instead of waging a campaign against us from Washington, D.C.”

But PEER's beef lies in Washington, D.C., with the Bush administration, not the Flathead Reservation, Hocutt said. There, Deputy Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman follows former Interior Secretary Gale Norton in pushing for the Bison Range to become what PEER fears would be the first of many refuges to be wrested from federal management, Hocutt said.

And, PEER adds, it is being done at a time the inspector general of the Department of the Interior is investigating possible misuse of funds by the tribes in connection with their contracts at the Bison Range, and while the employees' grievance is still alive.

Dirk Kempthorne, who replaced Norton, has not taken a public stand on the issue, but Hocutt said it's unlikely the Department of the Interior would be negotiating with the tribes if he weren't agreeable to the idea.

“Many of us do not feel Secretary Norton and Paul Hoffman were brought in to take apart dedicated trust lands,” Hocutt said. “It's frustrating that, outside of the Mission Valley and the tribes themselves, that people can adopt such a cavalier attitude toward the National Bison Range.”

“The National Wildlife Refuge System has been 100 years in the making. (President Bush's appointees) don't own these lands,” he added. “These are just political appointees, appointed by a president who's not going to be there much longer, who are doing this.”

Although the group insists the bone it wishes to pick is not with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, PEER is quick to point to what it calls a “sharply negative evaluation for the first year of joint operations which found that the CSKT failed to perform many functions, did other work incompletely and, in some cases, misplaced funds.”

McDonald noted that, prior to the tribes' involvement at the Bison Range, the Fish and Wildlife Service had never conducted a similar evaluation of its own effectiveness, “so there is no benchmark to compare the quality of our work to the quality of their work.”

PEER's characterization of the evaluation, McDonald said, “is false. If you read the performance report, it found areas that can be improved, but very few amounted to anything substantial. Š There is something in it about documenting the number of birds. In the past this had been done by horseback, but we did it on foot, then we were told the information was thrown out because we had done it improperly. There are a lot of petty things like that designed to chip away at our credibility.”

Hocutt argues that the report the tribes want you to read was a watered-down version of the original, which PEER has posted on its Web site. The tribes counter by saying the original evaluation was filled with inaccuracies, such as claiming tribal involvement had cost the refuge 4,500 volunteer hours, when the tribes actually increased it to 4,700 hours.

“Twenty years ago, the CSKT took over management of the existing electric utility on the reservation,” McDonald wrote in a recent press release. “We heard the same ridiculous, misinformed, categorically incorrect ‘sky-is-falling' arguments then that we are now hearing from PEER, yet two decades later, Mission Valley Power is considered a model utility.”

Hocutt reiterated that the National Bison Range must be viewed in the broader scope, as part of a national system that must be kept intact.

“I empathize with the tribal aims,” Hocutt said. “I understand how they feel - I can't feel it myself, but I understand how they feel. If I were them, I'd be fighting and scrapping just as hard. But I will fight until my last breath to stop it, because if you look at the much bigger mosaic, the precedent this will set will put refuges all over the country in jeopardy.”

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Tribe seeks full management of National Bison Range


By MATT GOURAS - Associated Press Writer -

HELENA — The American Indian tribe that has shared management of the nation’s only federal wildlife refuge for bison wants to ditch the unusual arrangement and take over full management.

But the Interior Department said negotiations are on hold until ‘‘significant’’ personnel issues are resolved. After that, though, it will consider more management responsibility for the tribe, said spokesman Matt Kales.

The two-year joint management agreement between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the federal agency expired in September. The tribe said it has submitted a proposal seeking full management of the 19,000-acre National Bison Range in northwestern Montana under a contract in which the federal government would pay the tribe for its work.

The joint agreement was a compromise for the tribe, which has been seeking full management of the bison range near Moiese for years. The tribe’s proposal comes just months after the release of a performance report that indicated some of the work the tribe was responsible for wasn’t getting done.

‘‘Instead of two heads running it, there would be one head. We found it a little bit awkward this style of management,’’ tribal spokesman Rob McDonald said Tuesday. ‘‘The original deal that was offered to us wasn’t perfect, but we decided to take it and show how we could run it.’’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will consider a deal that gives the tribe greater responsibility ‘‘on a performance-driven basis’’ over a three to five year transitional period Kales said.

First, the agency must resolve personnel complaints, he said. Kales said he could not elaborate on the problems, but said they are related to complaints that arose earlier this year that work conditions have deteriorated since the tribes got involved in running the range.

The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has said staff members want the tribe’s involvement ended.

‘‘The issues are significant,’’ Kales said. ‘‘Moving forward at this point is predicated on resolving those issues.’’

The bison range, within the borders of the Flathead Indian Reservation, was created in 1908 on Indian land the government bought to save bison from extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was charged with managing it prior to the two-year joint agreement.

‘‘We’ve always had interest in being managers of this completely and this is our solution to get there,’’ McDonald said of the tribe’s proposal.

The tribe’s proposal would phase in full management over three years under a federal contract starting in 2007. The proposal calls for the tribe to be paid $1 million a year for its work.

Under the joint agreement, the tribe performed some of the activities on the range, including bison roundups, weed control, fire suppression and collection of federal public use fees. About half of the range’s 24 employees were under the tribe’s supervision.

Negotiations with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are ongoing, and the proposal is sure to have its critics.

‘‘This is a complex issue,’’ Kales said. ‘‘It always has been.’’

Earlier this year, a performance report indicated much of the tribe’s assigned work wasn’t getting done. And environmentalists worry the tribe’s management could lead to reduced stewardship.

McDonald said those worries are unfounded, and are based on subjective and arbitrary reports of the tribe’s work.

‘‘We can’t deny that some of the areas showed weakness, but they were not substantial at all,’’ he said.


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Bison Range Grievance Filed : Could Affect Management Talks

By Nate Traylor
Leader Staff

MOIESE -- A grievance has been filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stemming from allegations that some Bison Range employees have been subjected to a harassing work environment by Tribal employees.

However, a Tribal attorney working on negotiations to extend the Tribe's management of some of the functions at the Range said the grievance was timed to disrupt those negotiations, and that it's simply an effort to reduce Tribal management of some roles there.

According to Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), the FWS communicated to the Tribe that they could have additional positions if they wanted. Essentially, if an employee were to quit or leave the Bison Range, that person could be replaced with a tribal member, which would give the Tribe more than 50 percent of the workforce.

Ruch speculates that the Tribe is inducing people to quit by creating a hostile work environment.

"Federal employees should not be subjected to racial or sexual intimidation and should expect their own agency management to do more than just stand by and watch," Ruch stated in an article posted on PEER.org. "The Fish and Wildlife Service has put its own people in an untenable position by signaling to the tribes that they would get to keep any jobs that became vacant -- in essence putting targets on the backs of refuge staff and creating an incentive for harassment."

The timing of the grievance is a bit suspicious, says tribal attorney Brian Upton, as the Tribe and FWS are currently in negotiations to renew their contract. He speculates that this is yet another effort by PEER to throw a monkey wrench into the works to delay or hamper the negotiation progress. PEER was one of several organizations that was critical of Tribal management of certain positions at the range, when the Tribes were negotiating with FWS in 2004 and 2005.

"PEER has a history of this," Upton said. "This fits in with their standard practice."

"It wouldn't surprise us if some of the employees were using the grievance to delay negotiations for a new agreement," he added.

PEER have been vocal opponents of the Tribe/FWS agreement enacted last year.

Ruch said that a majority of the Bison Range employees and about 40 conservation organizations opposed a contract agreement between the Tribe and FWS, which was finalized a year ago. The concern, he explained, was that a split-management system would result in the breakdown of wildlife operations.

The Tribe remains uncertain as to what the allegations are, or what particular incidents have occurred to create the alleged hostile working environment. They requested a copy of the grievance, but the FWS will not give them a copy, he said. The Tribe appealed their decision through the Freedom of Information Act.

In their grievance, the refuge employees request that the split-management agreement be rescinded or re-negotiated. In an effort to investigate the allegations fairly, U.S. FWS Deputy Regional Director Jay Slack indicated that the agency would use an outside party to conduct the investigation.

Upton explained that open positions at the range can be filled by tribal members, and that employment option was agreed upon in the initial Tribe/FWS negotiations last year. Upton said that he has not heard of any disharmony among Bison Range employees in the past year since the agreement was signed.

Furthermore, FWS retains almost all supervisory positions at the range, he added.

But Ruch said that the FWS and the Tribes were supposed to have renewed their contract in September. When asked why they haven't yet, he said "We assume it's because the [FWS] leadership doesn't know what to do."

"The annual agreement was set to lapse this past September but has been extended indefinitely by FWS on a provisional basis after the CSKT refused to sign a renewal of the agreement. The CSKT are seeking additional positions and funding, leading to a complete take-over of all refuge operations," reads the PEER.org article.

Upton stated that the Tribe submitted a proposal to the regional FWS office and they are waiting to hear back.

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Letter to Congress from 32 Wildlife groups



January 24, 2005

Dear Senator/Representative:

We, the undersigned, are writing to express our deep concerns with the proposed Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) at the National Bison Range Complex in Montana. The Department of the Interior has now sent the agreement to Congress for review.

Many groups and individuals have detailed serious flaws in the AFA that would turn over approximately half of the budget and staff positions at the National Bison Range Complex from the FWS to the CSKT. See the attached Summary. These flaws, communicated to the Interior Department during the public comment period, would cripple administration of the National Bison Range lands and provide a template for future AFAs that would be damaging to the National Wildlife Refuge System. Unfortunately, the major concerns raised during the comment period have been ignored by Interior, and the agreement sent to Congress fails to address these fundamental problems.

Concerns with the National Bison Range AFA as presented to Congress:

1) Although the AFA reserves to FWS the ultimate responsibility and authority for operation and management of the NBRC, many of its provisions hamstring the ability of the FWS to fulfill its duty and public trust obligation under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act to manage the refuge units or inappropriately shift management responsibility to CSKT under that statute.
2) The AFA imposes new and substantial costs to the National Bison Range Complex and the National Wildlife Refuge System that adversely affect the management and operation of the refuge units. Further, cost estimates for the agreement vary wildly, from $23,000 to $230,000. Additionally, $288,000 has been spent by FWS on negotiations since 2003.
3) The AFA will result in the loss of liability coverage for federal volunteers at the National Bison Range. Volunteers at the Bison Range contribute more than 5,000 hour a year. However, due to the Tribes sovereign immunity, volunteers will be exposed to liability issues.

It is important to note that, on October 8, 23 National Wildlife Refuge Managers from across the country filed a written protest urging rejection of the AFA, stating “No Refuge Manager, no matter how skilled, could successfully implement this agreement as it is written.” The managers represent 23 Refuges eligible for inclusion in AFAs that could be negotiated with self-governance Tribes. Since then, more than 100 other Refuge Managers have added their names to the letter.

The Department of the Interior has listed 34 National Parks and 34 National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries, eligible for tribal funding agreements on the same basis as the agreement with the CSKT. We share the concerns of these refuge managers regarding the AFA and believe this AFA would establish a dangerous precedent for management functions at other National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks.

Under the Indian Self-Determination Act Amendments of 1994 (Public Law 103-413), Congress must act affirmatively within 90 days to reject an AFA or it goes into force. We request that you write to the chairmen of the House Committee on Resources and Senate Committees on Indian Affairs and Environment and Public Works urging that Congressional hearings be held on the AFA and that the current AFA be rejected.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Submitted on Behalf of:

Gerald W. Winegrad, Vice President for Policy, American Bird Conservancy

Evan Hirsche, President, National Wildlife Refuge Association

G. J. Thomas Sadler, Jr., Conservation Director, Izaak Walton League of America

W. Alan Wentz, Senior Group Manager of Conservation Programs, Ducks Unlimited

John W. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., Director, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology

Thomas M. Franklin, Executive Director, The Wildlife Society

Eugene S. Morton, President, Association of Field Ornithologists

Stuart D. Strahl, Ph.D., President & CEO, Chicago Zoological Society

Dr. Herschel Raney, Chair, Conservation Committee, Arkansas Audubon Society

Len Vallender, Chairman, Conservation Committee, Campfire Clubs of America

Merlin D. Tuttle, Founder/President, Bat Conservation International

Stephen B. Oresman, President, Connecticut Ornithological Society

Virginia Reynolds, President, Tennessee Ornithological Society

Betty Anne Schreiber, President, Waterbird Society, Bird Dept., National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Marilyn F. Campbell, Exec. Director, Illinois Audubon Society

Eric Stiles, Vice President for Conservation and Stewardship, New Jersey Audubon Society

Raymond Lee, President, Foundation for North American Wild Sheep

Ruth Shea, Executive Director, The Trumpeter Swan Society

Susan L. Peterson, Ph.D., Conservation Chair, Delmarva Ornithological Society

Karen Etter Hale, Executive Secretary, Madison Audubon Society

Don Morgan, President, Pope and Young Club

David Govatski, Chairman, Friends of Pondicherry

Warren King, Board Member, Otter Creek Audubon

Dr. William J.L. Sladen, Director, Environmental Studies at Airlie

Malcolm C. Coulter, Co-Chair, IUCN Specialist Group on Storks, Ibises and Spoonbills

Shale Brownstein, Linnaean Society of New York

Dan Kunkle, Executive Director, Wildlife Information Center

Donald R. Dann, President, Bird Conservation Network

Noel J. Cutright, Founder, Riveredge Bird Club

E. J. McAdams, Executive Director, New York City Audubon

Jim Berry, President, Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History

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March 2006 update: CSKT wins contract

In 2003, the Bison Range issue came back with a vengeance. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes were again requesting management of this National Wildlife Refuge.  Senator Conrad Burns' spokesman, J.P. Donovan, stated, "He (Burns) wants this to be vetted in the public process - no behind-the-scenes, closed-door meetings." He went on, "He feels this is a local decision. He really wants to hear from constituents."

Roland Morris arrived to Senator Burns' office in May of 2003 with thousands of signatures opposing transfer of the NBR in hand, and two other valley residents by his side. Unfortunately, this last effort with Senator Burns bore no fruit, and on March 15 of 2005, the National Bison Range Agreement went into effect.

On March 14, the day before it went into effect, CSKT Chairman, Fred Matt, wrote in a guest column, "Sen. Burns has been a positive and aggressive advocate for Indian Country..." and "Burns fully understands and appreciates consultation with Indian country, our sovereignty, and our right to self-determination." According to the Missoulian, Burns opposed the NBR agreement in the mid-1990s, but seemed to waffle on this round of negotiations.

In 2004, a FWS official from Denver took me aside and told me that it is necessary for us to get Senator Burns' ear on the bison range matter, just as we had in the late 1990's. He said that Senator Burns was the key - the one that could make the decision one way or the other concerning the negotiations. He told me, "Senator Burns can stop this." But I didn't know what to do about it, because it didn't feel to me that Senator Burns was open to us at all anymore.

Interestingly, Mark Baker, a former legislative director for Burns and recent Burns' campaign chairman, is partner in the Anderson & Baker law firm in Helena, which was paid $60,000 to be the chief lobby firm for CSKT in 2003 and 2004.

The total amount Mark Baker has donated since 2001 to both Senator Burns and his Friends of the Big Sky Leadership PAC, is $9000. But Mr. Baker is also affiliated with the D.C. lobbying firm Denny Miller Associates Inc., whose individuals have donated at least $27,784 to both Senator Burns and his Friends of the Big Sky Leadership PAC since 2001.

Mark also worked through his firm, Anderson and Baker, for S&K Technologies, (a CSKT company) and made $120,000 there in 2003 and 2004, (and made $40,000 working for S&K earlier than that as well, for a total of $160,000).

He also worked for CSKT through another firm he is associated with, the Giacometto Group. Leo Giacometto was Burns' chief of staff from 1995 to 1999. Working for Giacometto, Mark Baker made $40,000 lobbying for the Salish and Kootenai College in 2004.

For the last few years, my husband and I had wondered about the unexplainable change in the Senator's behavior toward us and toward Federal Indian policy. When the Abramoff scandal broke open, I could only wonder if this had anything to do with it. According to a 2006 report by PoliticalMoneyLine.com and published in Roll Call, Sen. Conrad Burns pocketed $192,090 from tribal entities over these last few years. A quick look at the Open Secrets website shows how tribal campaign contributions to Senator Burn's campaign chest have grown since the year 2000, as he has gradually moved to the top of the list of congressmen accepting money from tribal entities.

We have no proof that Senator Burns has sold out our Bison Range in return for donations from tribal entities, (many out-of-state tribes are pleased with the precedent this management transfer has set and would have supported it) nor can we say that he and other Congressmen have sold out our parental rights, as well as the civil rights of non-members living within or near Reservation boundaries. But these are very important things to find out.      

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— Joint Complaint of Tribe Trying to Drive Off Staff in Order to Take Over Their Jobs

For Immediate Release: October 12, 2006
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

News Release (www.peer.org)

Washington, DC — The staff of the National Bison Range Wildlife Refuge in Montana has filed an unusual joint grievance contending that working conditions have become intolerable due to a torrent of “safety and ethical violations, harassment, intimidation, and personal slander,” according to an agency letter released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The grievance is just the latest sign of breakdowns at the refuge which has been operating under a precedent-setting agreement turning half of the operations over to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT).

“Federal employees should not be subjected to racial or sexual intimidation and should expect their own agency management to do more than just stand by and watch,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The Fish & Wildlife Service has put its own people in an untenable position by signaling to the tribes that they would get to keep any jobs that became vacant – in essence putting targets on the backs of refuge staff and creating an incentive for harassment.”

The controversial tribal-refuge split funding agreement was signed last year despite objections from more than 100 national wildlife refuge managers that it was an unworkable arrangement. Despite a thousand-page protocol that covers virtually every aspect of the split operation for the National Bison Range and the nearby Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, the transition has been far from smooth.

This July, the first annual performance evaluation showed that the tribes failed to perform many agreed upon functions, did other work incompletely, failed to provide qualified personnel and, in some cases, misplaced funds. Many of the key tasks the tribes contracted to perform, such as fence replacement and prescribed burns, were either not done or done so poorly that the work was deemed unacceptable. In addition, the refuge lost its corps of volunteers who had provided 4,500 hours of free labor each year.

In their grievance, the refuge employees have asked that the split-refuge management agreement be rescinded or renegotiated. In response, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Deputy Regional Director Jay Slack indicated the agency would contract with an outside party to conduct an investigation. Rather than contract with another federal agency, as is conventionally done, FWS has retained a firm from California.

”Agency managers have been aware of the problems for months; they do not need to hire sleuths from California to know what is going on,” Ruch added, noting that the agreement was facilitated by Montana’s own U.S. Senator Conrad Burns who chairs the appropriations subcommittee providing the FWS budget. “Somebody in a position of responsibility needs to bite the bullet and make a decision.”

The annual agreement was set to lapse this past September but has been extended indefinitely by FWS on a provisional basis after the CSKT refused to sign a renewal of the agreement. The CSKT are seeking additional positions and funding, leading to a complete take-over of all refuge operations.


Read the Fish & Wildlife Service pledge to investigate the joint employee grievance

View the staff clarification of its grievance

Look at the disastrous first year at Bison Range NWR under the agreement

Find out more about the Bison Range agreement  

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Transferring Management of Federal Lands:

2003 - The National Bison Range

The Department of Interior appears to be set on turning management of the National Bison Range in Moiese, Montana, over to a local tribal government, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). Despite wide public opinion that a transfer of management should not take place and shaky legal grounds for the transfer, the Department of Interior appears set to make this happen.

We currently have a National Refuge system operating under uniform management and priorities. Over the last 100 years, this system has developed standards that always put wildlife first. No other country has anything like it. The NBR itself has become a leader in the nation for its biological weed control and an independent survey from the University of Idaho indicated a very high visitor satisfaction rate.

This proposal to transfer management from the United States Fish and Wildlife System to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will remove the NBR from the uniform system. Transferring management of various FWS programs to other entities will produce a checkerboard system with varying administrative priorities. It also sets precedence for all Service policy regarding future tribal agreements on Service lands.

On April 8th, 2003, the Refugekeeper for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) wrote Honorable Senator Conrad Burns, "This issue is not even one of whether the CSKT could or should have management responsibility for NBR and its affiliates. Rather, it is more a question of the establishment of far-reaching precedents for the fragmentation and eventual dissolution of the rich history and legacy of the (National Wildlife Refuge System) NWRS as we know it today.The NWRS represents a legacy of wildlife habitats unlike anything seen on our planet. The NBR complex is one of the crown jewels of the system, and is emblematic of our nation's turn from waste and non-conservation of many species of plants and animals.You and your other elected federal colleagues in Montana.are truly at a decisional crossroads where we believe the long-term welfare and integrity of the NWRS lies in the balance. Because of the precedent setting nature of your decisions, your handling of this complex issue will have a major impact upon the sort of NWRS that is passed on to Montanans and the nation as a whole. Consequently, we sincerely ask you to view this issue, and similar ones, from the larger perspective of a truly national system of wildlife refuges. It would be helpful and statesmanlike if you and other elected officials were to appeal to officials in the Office of the Secretary of Interior to withdraw these proposals, and all work together to maintain and strengthen the functional integrity and mission of the NWRS."

Many tribal communities have done great jobs at various tasks. However, in matters of national assets, tribal government is too centralized. Not only is there little separation of powers, but many administrative decisions are made at council level, not department level. In other words, the tribal council would make the refuge decisions, not the tribal biologists. But the council, having responsibility for the tribal economy and other matters, is stretched in its efforts to prioritize. Unlike the FWS, wildlife won't always be on the top of the list. This is where the difference in systems will become noticeable.

This is the main issue of concern, but there are many others.

Many people, both tribal members and non-members, have said they would like to help but are worried about reprisal. If you want to help, it is possible to have your voice heard quietly and without repercussion. Our Honorable Senator Conrad Burns would like to receive additional personal letters and will keep your name confidential if asked. We urge all United States Citizens to contact Senator Burns, thank him for his past support and urge him continue to withhold his consent for the transfer of management of this refuge as well as any other program currently under the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

We also request that the DOI give negotiation responsibilities back to the FWS, which has 100 years of experience in taking care of the nations wildlife programs with the best interest of the wildlife in mind.

Please call Senator Burns at 202 -224-2644, (from MT -1-800-344-1513)

Write him at 222 N. 32nd St. Ste. 400, Billings MT, 59101

Or Fax: 406-252-7768

The Petition, stating,

"WE, the undersigned citizens of the United States of America, respectfully express our desire to have all programs that are currently operated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, INCLUDING the National Bison Range and the Ninepipe Refuge, to continue to be operated by that agency because it affords the best possible stewardship of the wildlands heritage of all U.S. citizens and continues equal employment opportunity for all."

was hand delivered to our Congressional Delegation in Washington DC at the end of May. Over 2000 signatures were collected.

Please also call Senator Max Baucus at 202-224-2651, (from MT - 1800-332-6106)

Representative Denny Rehberg at 202-225-3211

and Steve Griles, Dept. Sec. of the Interior, at 202-208-6291

©2003 copyright Elizabeth S. Morris- All Rights Reserved


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Back to Federal Campaign Contributions

BELOW:   Former Refuge manager and Board member and co-founder of the Blue Goose Alliance, Don Redfearn, addresses the Bison Range issue:



By Don Redfearn

If anyone happened to see smoke seeping from behind closed doors in the Department of Interior (DOI) building in Washington last spring, it was probably DOI officials and members of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) from the Flathead Valley of Montana smoking a peace pipe. They have been working hard since February to develop a contract, which would turn over management of the National Bison Range, and the Pablo and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) to the Tribes. The negotiations have been held behind closed doors, without Public input. And, smoke or no smoke, it was as if a nest of hornets had been stirred up. There has been a major eruption of sentiment against any such proposal. And, well there should be!

The stimulus for the ruckus lies within the 1994 Amendment to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act. In broad terms, the Act requires the Secretary of Interior to publish annually a list of services, functions, and activities that are eligible for inclusion in agreements negotiated between self-governance tribes and Interior bureaus other than BIA. The list for this year includes 30 National Wildlife Refuges and 4 National Fish Hatcheries from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Under Section 403(k) of the Self-Governance Act, annual agreements cannot include programs, services, functions, or activities that are inherently Federal or where the statute establishing the existing program (National Wildlife Refuges in this instance) does not authorize the type of participation sought by the tribe. The Interior Department has assumed the authority to determine what constitutes an inherently Federal function.


The basic philosophy of ownership of wildlife came to America with the colonies. Legislative authority was exercised primarily by the states until passage of the Lacey Act in 1900. After that, the federal government initiated the use of statutory authority to reserve lands specifically for wildlife conservation. President Theodore Roosevelt established the first NWR in 1903. Since then Refuges have been added to the system by various processes - Acts of Congress, purchase, donations, withdrawal of Public Lands, easements, etc. The 1966 NWR System Administration Act defined the system and placed all refuge units, however acquired, under that umbrella. The National Bison Range was authorized by an Act of Congress in 1908 and the President was directed to purchase lands from the Flathead Indian Reservation for that purpose.

In 1976, the "Game Range Act" specified all NWR to be administered through the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Also in 1976, Congress removed all authority previously vested in the Secretary of the Interior and the President to revoke any refuge. Neither the President nor the Secretary of Interior has authority to reassign management of any refuge in the system to any entity. The most recent act pertaining to refuges was passed in 1997, The National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act. This Act added several new goals and mandates to Refuge System Law. Among them is the requirement that each refuge must first achieve its original establishing purposes, and then must contribute to purposes of the Refuge System. In total, these several Acts leave no doubt that management of the NWR System is inherently a federal responsibility. Each refuge is managed and staffed by trained professionals to carry out the mission of that particular unit, and to do so in accordance with all laws and policies applicable to the NWR System. Who owns National Wildlife Refuges? Each and every citizen of the U.S. is a shareholder of this system of 542 individual Refuges, encompassing more than 95 million acres.


There is no question as to whether the CSKT are acting in good faith. The DOI has published information in the Federal Register (Vol. 67, April 5, 2002, pp. 16431-16435) that is misleading and/or misinterpreted. There are without doubt programs, services, functions, or activities in some Interior bureaus that qualify and are available for self-governance agreements. The Federal Register Notice makes note of agreements concerning a few functions with other Bureaus. But, the listings also include Refuges, Parks, etc., just because they are within, or adjacent to, Indian Reservations. Evidently no effort was made to vet those bureaus or programs within a bureau, which do not qualify because their functions are inherently Federal. Rather, DOI has opted to determine whether a specific function is inherently Federal, on a case-by-case basis. Now, amid acrimony and rhetoric, the main issue is obscured. To be accurate, this is not an issue about a contract between the DOI and the CSKT. The true issue is about the Secretary of the Interior, and her mandated responsibility to protect any and all Refuges. There appears to be a flaw in her understanding the limits of her authority, or a disregard for what happens to a NWR. No Secretary of Interior can believe she/he has the prerogative to undo what has been in the making for a century? If a contract for a private entity to manage any Refuge were allowed, the implications of such a precedent-setting action could be disastrous. The same rationale to issue a contract to the CSKT could be used to contract the management of the Arctic NWR. Unthinkable! Soon, there would be no System. The legacy initiated by Theodore Roosevelt and continued by other great champions of our wildland and wildlife resources is not to be treated in such a cavalier manner. A loose interpretation of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act cannot be justified to take precedence over the extensive legislation and laws governing the management of our National Wildlife Refuge System. It's in the best interest of all parties if this proposal is regarded as an instance of poor judgment being used in an attempt to do something good, and put it to rest - forever.

Don Redfearn is a former Refuge manager at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in the 1970's in addition to Refuges in Alaska and New Mexico. He is currently a Board member and co-founder of the Blue Goose Alliance  

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Refuge Manager October 4, 2004
National Bison Range Complex
132 Bison Range Road
Moiese, MT 59824


This letter contains comments on the Proposed Fiscal Year 2005 Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) Between the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of the Flathead Reservation.

It is next to impossible to make meaningful comments on the 57 pages of the draft agreement itself. There are many reasons for saying this. Lack of information in the draft AFA precludes making assessments of costs to the taxpayers. There is no way to understand how regulations under Title 25 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) will impact management responsibilities of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). There is nothing to support the authority of the tribes to become engaged in managing public resource lands. Neither is there any description of how the loss of current employees will impact management of the wildlife resources. Those employees are supposedly protected by Federal Personnel Rules, but indications are that most will eventually lose their jobs to members of the tribes, or be subject to a reduction in force (RIF) – a euphemism for being fired. There are certainly other items of concern in the draft, but the foregoing should suffice to make the point.

What is not in the draft Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) is more disturbing than the way important issues have been handled in only a cursory way. I make particular reference to Refuge Laws, authorities of FWS and Department of Interior (DOI), failure to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the way in which all negotiations have been held in secret sessions without any public input.

My comments will be presented as items of concern. They are not necessarily presented in order of priority, since I consider each and every one to be vitally important to the future of the National Bison Range Complex of lands and waters. There is an even greater concern for the other 544 National Wildlife Refuges and/or the system of refuges. If approved, this AFA becomes a precedent that would ultimately have profound adverse effects on the future of the world’s greatest assemblage of lands and waters dedicated exclusively to wildlife and their habitat.

ITEM (1) – The FWS does not have discretionary authority to enter into agreements of this nature. What is more important is that neither does the Secretary of Interior nor the President. Congress has reserved unto itself the authority to dispose of refuge lands or to enter into agreements relinquishing management authority to any entity other than the FWS.

ITEM (2) – The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDEAA) cannot include programs, services, functions, or activities that are inherently Federal (see section 403(k) of the Act). Every management function, program, service, or activity conducted by, or on a National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), is an inherent Federal responsibility by virtue of the legislation, and subsequent amendments establishing the NWR System. To say otherwise is to play semantic games. Webster defines inherent as “existing in someone or something as a natural and inseparable quality, characteristic, or right.” The Bison Range has been an inherent Federal responsibility for more than 96 years. The public expects the FWS, the agency with the expertise, knowledge, experience and demonstrated ability of managing the NWR System, to continue to do so into the future without interruptions. The ISDEAA speaks only to functions, activities, etc. There is nothing about assuming control or management of public lands. The FWS has the authority to issue a contract for a service or activity, but there is no authority to fracture or split management responsibilities by delegating management authority to another entity, private or public.

ITEM (3) – It is unconscionable to believe that legislation establishing the NWR System envisioned any instance that would condone subjecting management authority of a refuge, or any part of the refuge system, to the rules and regulations of another entity. The draft AFA subjects management activities to regulations in Title 25, C.F.R. It is patently illegal to subject management of a refuge to these regulations with anything short of an Act of Congress. The point here is that ISDEAA does not apply to management authority of any public lands.

ITEM (4) – There is a world of difference between a contract and the AFA. The draft AFA uses the words contract and funding agreement interchangeably. A contract, as defined or used in standard contracting procedures by the FWS describes work to be accomplished, delivery of goods, facilities to be constructed, etc. The contracting officer at the regional level is responsible for advertising bids for a contract. Oversight and inspections are also the responsibility of the contracting officer once a bid has been awarded. Everything is done to fulfill a need of the refuge to manage the wildlife resources. The purpose of this AFA is to provide funds to benefit CSKT. It is not designed to do anything to further the interests of resource management. Once entered into the AFA, the FWS becomes subject to Title 25, C.F.R., and in this instance must continue extending the agreement unless there is a demonstrated harm to the resources. The question is “Who makes that determination?”

ITEM (5) – To say that there is significance to the AFA because it is within the exterior boundaries of the reservation is without merit. Most of the lands surrounding the refuge are privately owned. It is little different than saying the Flathead Reservation is within the State of Montana, or that the State of Montana is within the boundaries of the United States. The Bison Range lands were purchased in 1908 for more than $18,000 and were then purchased again for market prices of the 1970’s for more than $6 million, plus accrued interest of several more millions of dollars. Each member of the tribe received well in excess of $3,000.

ITEM (6) – This first annual agreement will see the Bison Range lose more than half of the present workforce. The positions will go to the tribe, which means someone has directed Federal personnel guidelines to be ignored. It also means the refuge is losing the experience, the knowledge and the dedication of an extremely qualified staff.

ITEM (7) – The DOI has blithely negotiated this draft agreement in secrecy, with the assumption that CSKT is qualified to assume management authority of a NWR. The action speaks volumes about the qualifications of the negotiators to be considered protectors of our natural resources. There is little evidence that negotiators considered the wildland and wildlife resources of the refuge, or paid heed to concerns of refuge personnel. The National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 requires that a determination of compatibility be made for any proposed public use. There is no record of any such determination having been made for this proposed AFA.

ITEM (8) – There is no record that any consideration has been given to whether this agreement has the potential for major adverse impacts under the guidelines of NEPA. How can this be ignored? To enter into an agreement that provides funds and authority for a private entity to assume management control of a NWR is enough in itself to require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). When the issue is viewed from the precedent being set, it expands the magnitude of the action beyond belief. All 95 million acres of the refuge system become threatened. An EIS is the only way to gather all the facts and present them in an orderly and objective manner.

ITEM (9) – The CSKT is not qualified to assume management control of a NWR nor any part thereof. Refuge Managers are schooled and trained as professional land resource managers. Where is the logic that says taxpayers should accept without question the premise that CSKT can, or will manage the land and wildlife resources with the same dedication and level of professionalism as FWS? It should be kept in mind at all times that CSKT acts as a corporate entity with their responsibilities to tribal members. Their function is not an interest in public land management. As for the “special geographic, historical, or cultural significance,” it is of no greater concern to the tribes than it is to other Americans.

ITEM (10) – The FWS will lose considerable funds if the DOI and CSKT should prevail in this illegal effort. Costs to the Bison Range for the first year would increase as much as $500,000. Future AFA would escalate costs even more. How can the DOI be serious about this when normal budgets are constrained because of the war in Iraq, and Congress is now considering a supplemental budget in the amount of $70 million to address damages to refuges from the recent hurricanes in the Southeast U.S.? The refuge system is already struggling under a $2 billion backlog in operation and maintenance needs.

There are other issues such as effects on volunteers and the potential cost to the government on tort claims that should be addressed as items of concern. But, it would take an expert in Indian Law to ferret out the details of those concerns and others not yet identified that would affect this particular AFA. It all comes down to what has been stated earlier, and that is the ISDEAA does not provide the authority for CSKT to assume management control of public lands.

It was reported at the question and answer sessions of September 8 and 9, 2004 that someone in the Denver office of the FWS will sign the agreement. If true, this is very unorthodox because the FWS has been more or less shut out of the negotiations by the Secretary’s office. Why has this been treated more or less as a local issue? Why no public meetings of record? Why no public involvement at all? The Bison Range is public property managed for the benefit of every citizen of the U.S. Yet, precious few are aware of the threat to this refuge.

This is not an issue where a decision should be made on the plurality of votes for or against. The facts and the power of the arguments must weigh heavily on any decision to approve or disapprove. It is never about just one event. It is of utmost importance what the effect of an agreement of this nature can have on the future. It is not inconceivable for this agreement, if approved, to eventually impact tens of millions of acres of public lands. That is why a determination of compatibility and an EIS is not essential, but mandatory.


Don E. Redfearn
2008 West Clear Sky Court
Tucson, AZ 85704

There is enclosed Appendix 1 – A list of all the individuals who will receive a hard copy of these comments.


Gale Norton – Secretary of Interior
Steve Williams – Director of FWS
Bill Hartwig – Chief of Refuges
Ralph Morgenweck –Regional Director – Denver
Rick Coleman – Regional Chief of Refuges Denver

Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, John Dingell, John McCain, Anna Eshoo, John Kyl, Dennis R. Rehberg, Conrad Burns, Wayne Gilchrest, Max Baucus, Don Young, Michael D. Crapo, W. J. Tauzin, Bob Graham, Jim Saxton, Ron Wyden, Mark E. Souder, John W. Warner, Walter B. Jones, Lisa Murkowski, Randy Neugebauer, Craig Thomas, Richard W. Pombo, Wayne Allard, George Miller, James M. Inhofe II, Frank Pallone Jr., Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, James M. Jeffords, Neil Abercrombie, Barbara Boxer, Salomon P. Ortiz, Harry Reid, Ron Kind, Joseph Lieberman, Madeline Z. Bordallo, Lincoln Chafee, Nick J. Rahall II, Edward J. Markey, Grace F. Napolitano, Curt Weldon, Tom Udall, Mark Udall

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Payments received by the CSKT for the National Bison Range land

And origin of the livestock


The National Bison Range was established in 1908 at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt and  was created by an act of Congress.  The lands were reserved from mostly unallotted lands on the Flathead reservation.  Total appropriations for the 18,500 acres, fence and miscellaneous items, including the payment to CS&KT;  $50,700. This amount represented fair appraised value at the time.   

The American Bison Society raised $10,560 through the donations of the American Public, including the nickels and dimes of children throughout the nation.  With that money:

  1.  Thirty four head of the Buffalo were purchased from the Conrad estate in Kalispell, including the herd leader and a cow, and donated to the Federal Range. (These buffalo included decendent buffalo of the buffalo sold by Pablo. This is where the tribe claims they used to own the herd.)
  2.  Two more buffalo were donated by Charles Goodnight of Texas, although the male died before it arrived.
  3.  These Thirty-seven formed the original herd and arrived to the Range on October 16, 1909.
  4.  In November 1910, three more head were donated from the Corbin herd of New Hampshire.

The Bison Range is now home to a variety of animals, the originals of whom were donated by:

  1.   Boone and Crockett Club of New York
  2.   Yellowstone Park
  3.   The city of Missoula, Montana, and
  4.   The Canadian National Parks Service


In 1972, when the tribe determined that they desired more for the entire reservation land, including the Bison Range, and US Claims Court agreed, Congress paid the Tribe a second time. This time, the total amount given to tribal members and the tribal government was $26 million, which included $6 million plus interest.

Each man, woman and child who were registered with the CSKT by March 17, 1972, were personally given $3,955.15. (April 27, 1972 issue of The Flathead Courier and the March 16 and 23, 1972 issues of The Ronan Pioneer.)

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The negotiations have concluded. The deal has been made.

The compact will go into effect on November 15th. (1998)

By Lisa Morris

To the many people involved with the National Bison Range (NBR) controversy in Moiese, Montana three years ago, these words are ominous. To those that don't understand, it will be explained. But to people of northeastern Minnesota, it doesn't seem to be a worry. According to Grand Portage National Monument superintendent Tim Cochrane, "I had heard the negotiations for the National Bison Range were acrimonious, but the Grand Portage Tribe handled it differently. They were candid, frank, business like, reasonable, and wonderful to work with."

For people that have had a different experience, that's good to know. However, some are still concerned how the Grand Portage compact coming to effect in November will set a precedence for future compacts with tribal governments not quite as wonderful to work with. A Sept. 1995 draft note stated that the first compact, (at that time assumed to be "Transfer of the National Bison Range ") "will set precedence for all Service policy regarding future tribal agreements on Service lands." These lands could include any National Park Service (NPS) Program, National Fish Hatchery, Ecological Service Program, Bureau of Land Management Program, Bureau of Reclamation, Endangered Species Programs, or any geological survey where a tribe could show connection to a geographic or cultural program.

  The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975 (P.L. 93-638) originally applied only to the activities and programs of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. If a special status (self -governance) Indian tribe requested, the Secretary of the Interior was directed to enter into compacts with the Tribe to plan, conduct, or administer Federal facilities or programs which were meant for specific benefit of Natives. A tribe can be designated a "self-governance Tribe" after an assessment is done into how well they maintain physical stability and budgeting. In 1994 there were only 20 self-governance tribes, and only 20 new tribes can come on line per year.

But Title II of P.L. 103-413, entitled (403a) Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 amended the 1975 Act to all bureaus within the Department of the Interior, making it unnecessary for the program to have to be for the specific benefit of the Tribe. According to Duncan Brown, Native Liaison to the FWS, "certainly all 9638 Indian programs can be included, but as far as non-Indian operations are concerned, to the Indian bureaus and BIA bureaus these are discretionary programs. There is no "entitlement" to non-Indian, non-BIA programs. Self-governance gave the tribes opportunity to take on only programs that were not inherently federal."

"However, if they have a geographic, cultural, or historical connection to where the program or bureau is located they may petition to take on these programs....The Department doesn't have to turn over the program, but it may."

In answer to a question about the difference between a "compact" and a "contract", Brown responded, "a compact is the government to government relationship protocol that are established prior to the particular tribe or bureau discussing program contracting. Almost like a treaty like instrument, it is a formalized understanding of whom talks to whom and why and how we are supposed to get along,.. although I must say with respect to BIA, they have used compact as their instrument for contract....A contract is just that, just a contract." and according to a 1995 FWS guidance book, "protocols are different. The basis for trust and responsibility is higher."

When asked what is meant by "inherently federal" Brown responded, "Inherently federal is a legal term of art and is determined on a case by case basis of what the federal government must retain. There is not a definition because it will differ from case to case and bureau to bureau. The FWS, for instance, by law can not delegate its authority to anyone. It can not have an Indian tribe come in and say, "we want to manage XY Refuge." They can work with us; they just can't have control. Management can only happen if its been created for the benefit of that tribe."

However, a 1995 FWS guidance book is more specific. In it says "Inherently Federal functions are those that involve the exercise of significant discretion or authority in applying or carrying out Federal law." and a 1995 memorandum states, "...we view the terms "inherently Federal" and "administration of a refuge" as synonymous. Therefore, the service will consider contracting out only those programs or functions over which it retains administrative control....By application of the Administration Act, therefore, we conclude that an Indian Nation may not be granted complete authority for general management of a refuge with no involvement o the part of the service."

In late 1996 FWS had rejected a request by the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho to take over the operation of the Kooskia National Fish Hatchery. The reason for the rejection, according to the Great Falls Tribune, was when looking into the purpose for the Fish Hatchery, there could be found no evidence that it had been run for the specific benefit of the Tribe. "It's really more of a global issue with salmon management in the Columbia Basin," a FWS representative said.  

Under the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CS&KT), of the Flathead reservation, were the first Tribe to request to compact with the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). They weren't able to claim it as an Indian program. A 1926 article written by Cora E. Van Dusen noted that the NBR was established in 1909 for the purpose of preserving the American Bison. Also, a letter written to then Rep. Pat Williams in the summer of 1995 reiterates that the purpose of the Range was "...for a permanent national bison range for the herd of bison." and "...as refuges and breeding for native birds." Many of the NBR programs have also been declared "Inherently Federal."

Despite this, when requesting to manage and operate the NBR the CS&KT argued that the Range was a place of historical, cultural, and spiritual significance to their people and requested to fully manage the entire NBR complex, which included not only the entire NBR operations on land within the reservation boundaries but also NBR land not contained inside the reservation. These included Swan River National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Lake, North Flathead Lake, Kila Refuge areas and Creston Fish Hatchery. Also on the list were the "Conservation Easement" and "Partners for Wildlife Program", which included contracts some area NON-members had signed with the FWS. Many of those contract holders, having no voice in Tribal government, were uneasy about the Tribe having control of the contracts.

As word spread, many people, surprised by the magnitude of the tribe's request, became concerned. At issue was what some considered CS&KT history of poor resource management, including what some believed to be inadequate weed control and a failed 1981 attempt at raising buffalo. Many others were concerned about federally sanctioned tribal hiring discrimination on federal lands with federal dollars.

The USFW currently employs local residents and is non-discriminatory. At this time, persons of all races are hired according to their ability. However, in a January 1996 letter to a Lake County resident, Tribal Chairman Mickey Pablo is quoted as saying, "hiring will occur according to tribal practices which falls wholly within the bounds of federal law." He also said, "basic funding will not change under tribal management of our National Bison Range. Our Federal Government funds the management now, and will under the tribes proposal." Tribal hiring practices which fall wholly within the bounds of Federal law, known as "order of preference" and "tribal preference" are as follows; first choice for jobs goes to enrolled members of the local tribe, then first generation descendants of the local tribe, followed by enrolled members of other tribal reservations, and finally non-Indians. This order prevails no matter the ratio of "member" Indians to non-member Indians and non-Indians on a reservation.

Another issue for many people was the question of why the tribe was wanting full control of the range. Former Chairwoman Rhonda Swaney had been quoted in the Missoulian, May 14, 1995, as saying about the Bison Range "we feel we'd be able to make our case to Congress to get more money..."

In fact, according to the law, U.S.C. 458cc., Sec. 403 (j), "...All funds...shall be treated as non-Federal funds for the purposes of meeting matching requirements under any other Federal law." What this means is it may be possible for the Tribes to obtain through matching grants double or even triple the current Federal monies available for these programs.

And despite public perception of the relationship between tribes and buffalo, some questioned even that as a motivation. While CS&KT Chairman Michael T. Pablo wrote in his request for compacting, "Buffalo, then and now, form an inextricable bond between our people and our earth", his ancestor and Bison herd entrepreneur, Michel Pablo, according to the book "Hides, Heads, and Horns", told companion Kootenai Brown he "saw where he could sell his buffalo to parks and museums and make a good thing of them." and Michel Pablo's partner, Charles Allard, wrote in 1886; "buffalo breeding is as good an investment as real estate," for hides sold for $100 a piece, and mounted heads at $200 to $500."

Furthermore, in April of 1995 Harry Schildt of the Blackfeet Reservation stated to this reporter, "...we are having a meeting very soon and I am going to talk to (CS&KT) about making the buffalo on the NBR available only to Indian Tribes within Montana. Other tribes can go other places for their buffalo." And the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative has also sponsored bison auctions, inviting potential buyers to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City in October of 1995 for buffalo hors d'oerves and refreshments.

The original impetus for the national movement for the preservation of the Buffalo began with the American Bison Society in 1905. The National Bison Range was established in 1908 at the request of President Theodore Roosevelt on lands reserved from mostly unallotted lands on the Flathead reservation. Total appropriations for the 18,500 acres, fence and miscellaneous items, including the payment to CS&KT, was $50,700. This amount represented fair appraised value at the time. Later, in 1972, when the tribe determined that they desired more for the entire reservation land, including the Bison Range, and US Claims Court agreed, Congress paid the Tribe a second time. This time, over 6 million dollars plus interest.

The Bison themselves were purchased by the American Bison Society with $10,560 they raised through the donations of the American public, including the nickels and dimes of children throughout the nation. With that money, thirty six head of Buffalo were purchased from the Conrad estate in Kalispell and donated to the Federal Range. Two more buffalo were donated by Charles Goodnight of Texas, although the male died before it arrived. These Thirty-seven formed the original herd and arrived to the Range on October 16, 1909. The Bison Range is now home to a variety of animals, the originals of whom were donated by Boone and Crockett Club of New York, Yellowstone Park, the city of Missoula, Montana, and the Canadian National Parks Service. For the past 88 years, the FWS has successfully managed the range and has become a leader in the nation for its biological weed control.

So in 1995, locals, enflamed by what they saw happening, held two rallies and a four week petition drive garnering over 4000 signatures. As a result of the pressure, Chairwoman Swaney sent to Regional Director Ralph Morganweek in December of 1995, a letter requesting that any "public notice relating to the ongoing government to government negotiations ...will occur only with the mutual consent of both parties." and "any agreement reached at the negotiation table will be recorded and signed at the time agreements reached." Although FWS guidance policy in the fall of 1995 stated, "participation of the general public could be critical to the success of a program/activity that the Tribe chooses to contract." and "Not only is this politically astute, it may allay some of the fears the general public may have concerning the intentions of the tribe regarding the resource," the Chairwoman's letter rendered "due process" and public input impossible.

  In December of 1996, after being told second hand that the Dept. of Interior would not be listening to the people of Western Montana on the issue any longer and that the only people they may listen to would be elected State officials, a resolution was set before the Montana legislature to send to the Federal Government opposing Federal contracting, compacting, or delegating management authority for non-Indian benefit programs to Indian Tribes, (specifically the Bison Range).

"We had a bad hearing," State Rep. Rick Jore said later. "No one was in there." By the time the Bison Range Resolution came up in committee, most Republican legislators had gone to other committees, leaving the Republican chairwoman and three Democrats.

However, the spectator chairs were still full. There were six supporters of the resolution present, including this reporter. Testimony submitted in favor of the resolution included written testimony from a former Bison Range manager, verbal and written testimony about the Bison Range, the initial payment to the CS&KT from Congress in 1908, Range history, other national Parks targeted for similar compacts, and the federal lawsuit in 1971 that awarded the CS&KT well over 6 million dollars for all the land within the reservation, specifically including the Bison Range again.

The rest of the chairs were filled with those opposed; members of the Tribal Council and a small Mission Valley group of tribal supporters headed by Rob Sands. Testimony from opponents included statements from CS&KT Vice Chairman Mickey Pablo that the land within the Bison Range had never been paid for and that negotiations do involve the public. "The tribe has a good history of working with the public." he stated. Sands, in written testimony, stated, "I believe that tactics that whittle away at tribal self-governance are based on misinformation and/or greed. Whichever it is, the result is ultimately racist..."

State Rep. George Heavy Runner, a member from the Blackfeet reservation, asked several questions and indicated that a move against the Bison Range management takeover was anti-Indian. Rep. Gillan said this is a "neighborhood squabble" that Jore was pulling the legislature into. Rep. Heavy Runner agreed. The resolution failed in Committee, but despite this apparent victory, the tribe itself went ahead and stymied the negotiations. The Tribe continued to insist on full management of the entire complex and reports from two sources are that on a trip to Washington DC to discuss the issue, former Chairwoman Swaney approached a Dept. of Interior official in fury and the Tribal administration frequently ignored FWS attempts to negotiate.

  "The CS&KT was first to request a compact with the FWS," said Brown last week, "but many compacts have been put into place since 1994. The Bureau of Reclamation has several millions of dollars worth of annual funding agreements. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) also has several annual funding agreements. And in Alaska there are contracts pursuant to the contracts that are negotiated."

Brown also noted that regularly scheduled audits of the compacted budgets occur through the Single Audit Act.

However, when questioned about "Tribal Preference in Hiring" occurring on federal land with federal dollars, he answered, "When we have signed an Annual Funding Agreement, we've already decided we want to do business with the tribes; if we come to an agreements to let them do that. It is theirs to run with their own people. Our government is going with the tribe that they will have a role in some program and it is up to the tribe to staff as they wish. If a white person has been discriminated against by an Indian tribe he needs to take that up with the tribe. Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) doesn't apply. We don't interfere in tribal hiring practice."

He added, "We wouldn't consider an EOE clause in a compact. Indian tribes are bound by the Indian civil rights act. This would be an issue between the tribe's and whomever is complaining. Not our concern."

  Tim Cochrane, superintendent of Grand Portage National Monument, seems comfortable with the compact between the National Park Service (NPS) and the Grand Portage Reservation.

"The Grand Portage National Park was established in 1958. The Tribe was desirous of the monument and freely sold the land to the United States. Because of this, a stipulation was placed in the legislation that said, "Where qualified, tribal preference would be given to tribal members." As a result, the majority of the persons employed in maintenance, even prior to the contract, are tribal members."

He explained the compacting, "They staged an approach through Indian Self-governance Act. The Tribe will take on the maintenance budget and will provide budget accounting." However, he added that the tribe "may be trying to get (additional) "indirect costs" from the federal government.

According to the National Park Service, Grand Portage National Monument, located in Grand Portage, Minnesota, was a fur trade site in the late 1700's. Seven miles from the Canadian border, it linked Lake Superior with an inland system of lakes and rivers and was a major gateway into the interior of North America for exploration, trade and commerce. It served as inland headquarters for the North West Company and was the location for a summer rendezvous involving traders, agents, voyagers and Indians.

Today it consists of the reconstructed great hall, kitchen and canoe warehouse, as well as a stockade wall and the eight and one-half mile Grand Portage. The reconstructed buildings have been furnished in the time period of the late 18th Century and contain hands-on exhibits. Programs include historic cooking and baking, Native American craft demonstrations and musket firing. Primitive camping is permitted and an annual event, Rendezvous Days, re-creates the fur trade rendezvous. The Grand Portage Band of Minnesota Chippewa also sponsors a traditional American Indian Pow Wow at the same time.

Although the compacting drew some questions and concerns from two groups, the "Friends of Grand Portage" and the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), both organizations now seem content that the compact will work.

Lori Nelson of the NPCA Minnesota regional office stated that she had some concerns. She said, "There is some ambiguity about how the Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU) would be evaluated or reevaluated. I think that the better you define the roles of partners the better off you are so there is no misunderstanding later on. Also, it was not clear as to how you give notice to the tribe and how you determine they are not in compliance. There were just a few things not clearly defined in the contract that could cause problems. Also, "Inherently Federal" is defined ad hoc. But overall, it's pretty good agreement from what I have seen."

Brown added that there is a provision for termination if the Tribe does not do the required maintenance. "If the resources are hurt or a person is injured do to inadequate maintenance, after a process of giving them a chance to correct the problem, the contract can be terminated." According to Brown, "It's very standard reassumption for imminent jeopardy. But there are a lot of procedures we would go through before that happened. They would have 60 days to cure whatever was wrong. There is an "Emergency reassumpton", but that is only if something so horrible is happening to the resource that we would have to go in immediately and reassume."

  The Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska was actually the first National Park Service (NPS) AFA compact, (as opposed to a regular grant). According to Superintendent Dave Spirtes, "Contracting business is done all the time. A Contract is almost always competitively bid. But a compact is not competitively bid."

"The Bering Land Bridge compact is actually with Kawerak, Inc., a non-profit corporation operating on behalf of member tribes. In this case, the compact is not a "program" of the government, it's a project. The project, "Beringia" has a life to it. Under the program, Beringia provides funding for a wide range of projects. It seems to be working out well. ...Kawerak has a large collection of oral history tapes. They started with over 100 tapes of meetings of elders and oral history interviews and helped protect those tapes so they wouldn't deteriorate. The compact provides funding to get those tapes preserved and transcribed. There are three different language groups. They hire people to listen to the tapes and transcribe them. There is interest that information on the tapes would be made available for schools, interpretation, and research."

"Generally limited to three years of funding, funding is awarded every year. We did amend last years agreement and used it to accomplish a number of minor projects, including paving a parking lot and putting up a fence. Four or five minor projects. However, Kawerak Inc. has expressed interest in taking over full park operations,...for the benefit of all people."

"There has been discussion about more cooperative agreements with the Tribe. Co-management is a big word in Alaska. ...There have been discussions on-going for several years. There are subsistence issues...management of resources. Heated discussion on how those resources will be managed. It has appearance of pitting one (racial) group against the other, but it's really "rural against urban" groups."

When asked about tribal hiring, Spirtes answered, "In all cases we want to get the best people in positions to accomplish the work. The State has a "Local Hire program" and it's not a native program." So the employees of a program will in many cases reflect the make-up of its location. In addition, "The Federal government can audit ...review how (The tribe has) done. They can review how money spent."

Bruce Baltar, a non-tribal official of Kawerak, Inc. spoke about compacting with the National Park Service for programs within the Bering Land Bridge, " What the Beringia program does is collect oral cultural history. Its main function at this point is to transcribe them into a Native and English data base so researchers can use the information. This is the only part of Beringia program that the National Park Service does in this area. It's all associated with the land bridge and locally designed cultural related projects. It is interesting only because it is coming to us in this compact. Well, I shouldn't say that. Kawerak gathered the local history before this project came along. All the project is is a funding source for transcribing the data collected of elders that are not around any longer. The corporation tapes were a collection of interviews taken in the villages. There is Inuit, Ypik in southern part, and Siberian Ypik spoken on St. Lawrence Island. Some of the tapes are one-on-one interviews were conducted with elders. Others are tapes of meetings and elders conferences held every other year. Early meetings were recorded and mostly in Native language. A whole lot of tribal members still speak southern Ypik. Those areas have quite a few schools that still teach it in lower grades. It varies alot depending on the village."

"Alaska has 220 (inhabited) villages. Kawerak is a native nonprofit regional corporation, a consortium of tribes. There are 20 member tribes, nineteen in our compact. Once contracting became available, the tribes really needed to incorporate in order to do business. We are a vehicle to obtain BIA funding, pooling it in a region. By themselves, per tribe, the amount of funding from the government is too small to do anything with. Pooling money helps the region provide services."

Kawerak's main contract with the BIA is a general funding agreement for virtually all the BIA services, such as employment services, realty services, and natural resources. (Norton Sound Health Corporation does IHS.) According to Baltar, Kawerak employees number just under 90% tribal.

"We would like to expand," Baltar added, "But it has been our opinion and experience that the Interior Department is very resistant to compacting other then BIA programs. We've been trying to get other contracts with the NPS and FWS. And that is also the experience with other tribes so far. We need further legislative changes to make that happen."

Baltar also confirmed terms in the agreement related to auditing and a termination clause, much like with Grand Portage.

But one FWS employee has doubts about so-called "termination clauses," stating, "It's so unclear. How do you prove imminent peril to the resource?"

All in all, only a small fraction of self government tribes have requested compacting. According to Brown, "We don't have any formal proposals by new tribes beyond the three discussed at his time, but we've had many inquiries. Chairman Pablo has approached the Department on reopening talk about management and operation of the NBR, but no formal proposal has been resubmitted." According to Brown, Pablo sent a letter six weeks ago asking for negotiations to resume. As of this printing, the Service had not yet responded to that request. A message of inquiry left at Pablo's office went unanswered.

At this time, the current NBR planning process is giving the CS&KT a voice in how to do business. According to an employee, CS&KT is in a learning process but not participating officially as they might have if negotiations hadn't become strained. "They were going to be involved in formal planning - but now it is informal. They either show or don't show at meetings. And they ...can recommend but FWS has total control."

Refuges also having requested similar consideration but not yet having made formal proposals under the Tribal Self-Governance Act include the Tishomingo National Refuge of Oklahoma, the LaCreek National Wildlife Refuge of South Dakota, and the Toppinish Refuge in Washington State.

© 1998 Copyright - Lisa Morris - All Rights Reserved

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What made a Tribal Elder want to work against Tribal government
and federal Indian Policy?


"Dying in Indian Country" - A Story of Inspiration


If you would like to help:

Join the Blue Goose Alliance:

www.bluegoosealliance.org   Phone: 360-432-8807


The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER),

a national non-profit alliance of local, state and federal scientists, law enforcement officers. land managers, and other professionals, has stepped up with funds to help out the National Bison Range employees with their lawsuit.

Their website is: www.peer.org    Phone: 202-265-7337

Please pass along this information with anyone who wants to help the National Bison Range

Remember to keep calling the U.S. Department of Interior in support of FWS Director Dale Hall and his wise decision to permanently terminate the contract with the CSKT at the National Bison Range. 

Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne: 202-208-7351

Deputy Assistant Sec. of Interior for Indian Affairs Jim Casin: 202-208-6291 

Deputy Sec. of Interior Lynn Scarlett: 202-208-4203. 

Fax: 202-208-6956

Always be polite.

Encourage the National Bison Range staff:  406-644-2211, ext. 0

History of the NBR

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