Management of the Bison Range for all Americans

| April 23, 2020 9:30 AM

In a letter appearing in the Lake County Leader, John Todd of the Montana Wilderness Association, Amy McNamara of the Northern Rockies Defense Council, Scott Brennan of the Wilderness Society, and Tom France of the National Wilderness Federation, put their collective weight behind the proposal to turn the management of the Bison Range over to the CSKT.

The basis for their position is one of how responsible the Tribe has been in managing wilderness areas and wildlife on the Flathead Reservation. They site the wilderness areas, the Highway 93 wildlife over- and under-passes, and past performance with wildlife and conservation issues on the Reservation as proof that the Tribe is well-qualified in the task to manage the Bison Range.

I have no qualms about the Tribe’s wildlife management qualifications, but the authors entirely miss the most important qualification needed in the management of the Bison Range for all Americans.

The Tribe has a dismal performance record when it comes to managing resources for the “public good” and not just for the “tribes good.” Just this past week the CSKT ordered the suspension of recreation on all Tribal lands to non-residents of the Flathead Indian Reservation. This was required to lessen the spread of the Covid-19 virus, but then the issue got selective as it left the areas open to CSKT members and to residents of the reservation. If there really was a public health issue, would not the areas be closed to all people?

The CSKT has numerous recreation areas that are permanently closed to anyone other than tribal members. If an area is open to non-tribal people, it is because of the financial advantage to the Tribe and not because of a sense of public responsibility. Even on the south half of Flathead Lake, a special recreation license is required from anyone that is not a tribal member.

The most atrocious example of a lack of public responsibility, was with the purchase of Kerr Dam. After public taxpayers footed the bill for the dam, the tribe declined to continue with the payment of property taxes. This decision was a very big blow to the people of Lake County, especially the school system, all because the Tribe lacks any sense of social responsibility. They view themselves as a sovereign nation and are not subject to equal application of our laws.

Because this is held to be true, how can the CSKT manage the Bison Range for “all peoples” on an equal basis? When you listen only to members of the tribe, how can you hear the voice of the public?

To manage the National Bison Range, I believe the most important qualification has to be a sense of “public” responsibility. The range is a national treasure; it must not become an asset of a sovereign nation which has the option to set it aside and give favoritism to it’s citizens. I do not trust that the CSKT would continue with the management of the Bison Range with the best interest of the public in mind. Their track record does not support this.

—Terry Druyvestein, Rollins