Federal judge rescinds bison management agreement

Moiese, Montana (AP) October 2010

A federal judge has rescinded an agreement that allowed the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to assume most jobs and management duties at the National Bison Range.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, D.C., ruled recently that a 2008 funding agreement violated federal law. She ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not give an adequate reason for not assessing the possible environmental impacts of the agreement with the tribes over management of the range on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

The National Bison Range was established in 1908 and is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It is home to about 350 to 500 bison.

A lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, along with the Blue Goose Alliance conservation group and several former wildlife service officials, had challenged the agreement.

The plaintiffs maintained an assessment was necessary to account for potential mismanagement resulting in environmental harm. A similar funding agreement was rescinded by the federal agency in 2006 because of management problems.

Tribal spokesman Rob McDonald said the current agreement was overturned on an “environmental procedural error. This was not based on any kind of negative actions on the tribes’ part, despite what some have said.”

PEER called on the Department of Interior to return federal wildlife employees to the Bison Range jobs.

U.S. Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said the agency was reviewing the decision “and consulting internally with the Justice Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine the practical ramifications of this decision.”

The tribes’ chairman E.T. “Bud” Moran said they will also decide what course to take in the wake of the ruling.

“We want to avoid another disruptive destaffing at the bison range,” Moran said.