Bison Range opens amid management transition
(Lake County Leader file photo)
| May 6, 2021 1:00 AM
Less than six months after former President Donald Trump signed Bison Range Restoration legislation, there are big changes at the 19,000-acre facility in Northwest Montana as it opens this weekend.
The facility is now called the Bison Range and is in federal trust ownership for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Congress passed the act and Trump signed it Dec. 27, 2020.
The Tribes are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to transition from federal to tribal management of the property located in Lake and Sanders counties.
Entrance fees have increased as part of an effort to make the site self-sufficient, and hours of operation have changed slightly.
Beginning, Saturday, May 8, a daily or annual pass per vehicle will be required to enter the Bison Range. The entire facility is a fee use area, including the day-use area. The new rate is $10 per car daily, up from the previous $5 day pass. The Bison Range annual pass is $20 per year, up from the previous $15 fee.
Because the Bison Range is no longer a Fish and Wildlife Service or National Park Service facility, federal-use passes no longer will be accepted for entrance fees or sold at the Bison Range.
These include the America the Beautiful or Golden Age passes, as well as the access pass, which meant free entry for U.S. citizens with a permanent disability, or the military pass, which gave free entry for U.S. military members and their dependents. The "Every Kid in a Park" pass free to all fourth-grade students also is no longer available.
Tribal officials said all proceeds will be used for the management and operation of the Bison Range.
As it has been in the past, there is no charge for CSKT members with tribal identification.
The Bison Range used to be open dawn to dusk, but now the front gate opens at 6 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m., seven days a week.
Also, beginning at 7 a.m. Saturday, May 8, Red Sleep Drive opens, with the last car allowed on the drive at 6 p.m.
Prairie Drive is open all year, and visitors are asked to exit the front gate by 8 p.m.
Saturday will be the first day the Visitor Center will be partially open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., to pay fees and pick up maps/brochures; facilities will be available.
The Tribes are still following CSKT COVID guidelines that require anyone entering the building to wear a face mask, over the mouth and nose, and adhere to social distancing.
The Visitor Center staff will be available daily to assist visitors with resource questions and new informational and educational materials will be added during the upcoming summer.
The Tribal Council has adopted as its interim Bison Range management plan, the current Comprehensive Conservation Plan that was developed and adopted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2019 (for which CSKT was a cooperating agency).
Over the next few months visitors will begin to see a new look in signs and the remodeling of the visitor center. However, the annual reopening of Red Sleep drive over Mother’s Day weekend will remain the same. This 19-mile one-way gravel scenic auto tour increases opportunities to see baby calves and other wildlife that reside on the Bison Range year-round.
Visitors are asked to be patient while the museum is remodeled. A new gift shop is on track to open in June.
Visitors are asked to be courteous of other visitors, respect all wildlife from a distance, and remove any garbage.
For more information visit www.bisonrange.org or contact the CSKT Natural Resources Department at 406-883-2888.