National Bison Range

National Bison Range
National Bison Range, Montana

July 20, 2016

Dear Supporters,

On June 10, 2016, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) released draft legislation that would transfer the National Bison Range in Montana from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Secretary of the Interior to be held in trust for the tribe.

As the only nonprofit organization with a mission that includes “protecting, enhancing and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System,” we cannot support the removal of a wildlife refuge from the System without a specific companion action that adds habitat of equal or greater value into the System. We believe that a transfer of the National Bison Range without such compensatory additions to the Refuge System would have the effect of creating an unintended precedent that would threaten the integrity of our nation’s only system of federal lands devoted specifically to wildlife. For these reasons, the National Wildlife Refuge Association cannot support the draft legislation as written.

If the proposed legislation were changed to ensure no net loss of habitat to the Refuge System, we would be willing to re-evaluate our position.

In addition, the Refuge Association remains supportive of the use of Annual Funding Agreements (AFAs) as an instrument for collaborative management by Department of the Interior bureaus and tribes. If the proposal is not amended to include the addition of lands to the System, we urge the Service and the tribe to return to an AFA and to pursue any further proposals for management changes through established public processes.

The tribe has requested comments on the draft legislation, which we will provide; however, until the fundamental issue of the impact of the proposed transfer without compensatory additions on the integrity of the Refuge System is addressed and reconciled, all other concerns — including funding implications to the Refuge System, future public access, and transfers of property — are secondary.

Meanwhile, we would like to share with our supporters our core beliefs with regard to this proposal:

We believe that historically the CSKT has played an essential role in the conservation and recovery of the American bison, and that the tribe has a vital role to play in the future management of the National Bison Range. The refuge was purchased from the Flathead Indian Reservation, and these lands hold special significance to the CSKT. When President Theodore Roosevelt worked with Congress to create the refuge in 1908, the iconic American bison had been nearly eradicated from the planet. Since 1908, the Service’s investment in the National Bison Range has been instrumental in the species recovery, and this success holds a special significance both as an outstanding achievement and as a point of pride in the Refuge System’s key role in recovering our newly designated national mammal. As a result, both the tribe and the Service have special connection to this place.

We believe that any proposal to transfer the National Bison Range must not be used as an open door to other divestments. Other legislative proposals to transfer parts of the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico to the territory for development, and to transfer management authority of lands at the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in Nevada to the Department of Defense, have occurred in the past several months.

We believe that strong science and public dialogue bring about the best solutions to the complex issues facing wildlife today, and that any proposal to transfer land out of the Refuge System must include a public process that includes sufficient analysis and review, consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act.

We believe that collaborative relationships between the Service and tribes are not only legally mandated but also essential to conservation success. There are many examples of successful collaboration, and in this context AFAs have been shown to be a demonstrated and fundamental tool for defining roles and creating a collaborative framework. Landscape-scale conservation to support wide-ranging wildlife like bison can only be successful through collaborative partnerships that engage many voices and interests to achieve common goals, and AFAs support these partnerships in achieving their common goals.

We believe that the genetics of the National Bison Range herd should continue to play an important role in the Department of the Interior’s overall bison management plan.

The issues raised by a potential transfer of the National Bison Range are complex. Ultimately, we must all come together to address the needs of the Refuge System, the CSKT and our national mammal, the American bison.

Our goal is always to protect the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System and ensure that any action is in the best interest of America’s wildlife. The National Wildlife Refuge Association has long been committed to collaborative conservation strategies, and we believe our role is to help find the path forward that unites seemingly disparate points of view towards shared efforts to conserve wildlife and the habitat on which they depend. We look forward to continued dialogue on this topic and to working with both the Department of the Interior and the tribe.

Click here to view a PDF version of our National Bison Range Statement.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2016/07/national-bison-range/


  1. Ralph Webber says:

    I’m not impressed as the position has led off with a dangerous setting precedent for the Refuge System, namely compensatory mitigation. We will now play a game of checkers with the Refuge System. It will be okay to give up this refuge in exchange for these lands to establish another refuge. Do you know how long it takes to establish and develop a refuge compared to one that has been operational for years? There are some good “we believe” statements, but they’ve not been incorporated into the lead position. The message is we believe…but we don’t believe that strongly… The statements I’m referring to are those which tip-toe around NEPA and bison herd genetics. Where is the discussion “believing in” the Refuge Improvement Act and the adoption of a Comprehensive Conservation Planning process to ascertain guiding principles in managing the refuge with full public input and disclosure?

    This statement has given up the farm right up front…very poor negotiating skills as we now have nothing to fall back on as a strategy for saving the Bison Range. In my opinion, the only good that can come from this statement is it may awaken the membership whom many have been left in the dark on this issue. They now have an opportunity to let their voices be heard in strong rebuttal.

  2. Bob Fields says:

    Ralph Webber has hit the nail on the head. The idea of giving up a refuge if you get equal or greater acreage is ludicrous on its face. Disposal of a refuge is an extremely rare occurance and must follow the law, which this proposal does not. NWRA has tip-toed around this proposal for months for whatever reasons. NWRA needs to develop their positions on what they feel is the correct and legal action, not just fall in line with FWS proposals. NWRA was established in part to be a watchdog of FWS.

  3. William Reffalt says:

    My disappointment at the NWRA position mirrors Ralph’s and Bob’s. Not stated in the Association’s release is the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service initiated this proposal back in February, even while the Malheur NWR was still being occupied by armed intruders! FWS has failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act to prepare and present to the general public basic information about their proposal, the likely impacts, costs, and many particulars–such as what happens to the highly important bison herd on the Bison Range which was originally given to the people of the United States by the American Bison Society, using donations from people in 29 states to purchase 36 of the founding bison, and arranged for donations from other bison herds to bring the original herd to 40. The FWS equally failed to complete a mandated Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Bison Range and the other refuge units in the Complex. Had they done so, the public would have been fully engaged and informed on the many important values and contributions to the Refuge System made by the Bison Range as it continually achieved its original primary purposes. Now, the NWRA is giving the FWS a pass not only on those important violations of the law, but importantly it is giving no mention to FWS complying with its own Refuge Administration Act, the fundamental law designed to prevent the type of give away that is happening at the National Bison Range–originally created as a permanent bison range to prevent extinction of the bison and contribute to its full recovery (which is on the verge of happening and to which the Bison Range and its bison are a vital element. Shame on you FWS, and shame on you NWRA.

  4. Marvin L Plenert says:

    David, David, David This statement is only 5 months late in coming out, and a lot of WE BELIEVES. Just who are the “WE”? As a long time Refuge Association member, I don’t recall ever being asked by you as to what I believe about the FWS’s proposal to transfer a 108 year old iconic refuge, with an annual visitation of 0ver 220,000 per year out of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Bison Range or any other refuge is not the Administration’s, Secretary of the Interior or Director of the FWS to give away, nor is it the NWRA’s Director perogative to cozy up to the FWS leaders and support trading an established refuge for some unknown piece of land. No, its not supposed to work that way. I as a loyal supporter of the refuge system demand to be heard in a public form. The entire fiasco at the NBR has been fueled by the FWS’s failure to comply with the law, as well as involve the public or true owners of this magnificent refuge in administrative and management decisions. The failure of the FWS to comply with the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act and produce a comprehensive conservation plan is inexcusable, and should have been highlighted in the statement. Another thing David, you are mistaken saying that the NWRA is the only non profit organization with a mission for protecting refuges. Have you forgotten about the “Blue Goose Alliance”? From what I can tell they are the only organization speaking up and getting involved with the NBR proposed transfer.
    I did agree with your statement that the NWRA cannot support the removal of a refuge from the system, you should have stopped there, but what followed is mind boggling. Shame on the NWRA for selectively protecting our refuge system, as all refuges matter. I hope you will reconsider your stand and get on board and make all of the members proud again to be a part to the NWRA.

  5. Brent Giezentanner says:

    As a retired Refuge Manager with 35 years of Refuge experience, and a former NWRA Field Rep for the Southwest Region, I strongly oppose the proposed transfer of the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes regardly of whether the Refuge System gets “equal” habitat from somewhere else. This transfer establishes a horrible precedent that could and likely would allow any state, business, Sagebrush Rebellion advocate, or any person with a personal or economic interest to propose a similar transfer in the future. The current “Director” of the Fish and Wildlife Service has shown repeatedly that he cannot be trusted to protect the nation’s wildlife resources when faced with pressure from economic and political forces. That makes this entire transfer suspect as to whether it will in fact achieve the goals of wildlife enhancement for the future. Refuge Advocates and The National Wildlife Refuge Association should step up the the plate and strongly oppose this transfer. It is not in the best interest of the Refuge System or the wildlife resources at the Bison Range.

  6. Barnet Schranck says:

    I am surprised and disappointed with the NWRA statement concerning the NBR. This special place needs to remain as part of the System, not given to the Tribes. If the Tribes want to have such an operation. They should do it themselves. Of course, the Service can help by providing bison, and management expertise. Nor, have the AFA agreements worked, and I see no way in which they can be utilized at the Range. I would encourage the NWRA to rethink their statement and fully support keeping the NBR as a part of the Refuge System. Other comments attached are all appropriate, and I encourage the NWRA to seriously consider them.

  7. Toni Burton says:

    SKC should never be allowed to take over management of the NATIONAL Bison Range. The Range has been in Refuge status over 100 years. It belongs to all the people of the United State of America and the Tribe has been compensated for the land TWICE! This is nothing but a Land Grab and I am so disappointed the the NWRA is even considering supporting such a transfer. Shame on You!

  8. Phil Morgan says:

    This position by NWRA is wrong on so many levels! Foremost is the irrevocable precedent it would set. For decades I have been a supporter of the NWRA and its stated purpose as: “The only nonprofit organization with a mission that includes “protecting, enhancing and expanding the National Wildlife Refuge System.” Their position now being proposed in regards to the National Bison Range is clearly at odds with that statement. I personally knew all of the NWRA founders. That knowledge tells me that few, if any, would support this “no net loss” nonsense which flies in the face of the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act. In fact, I am quite confident the founders would fight like hell against the proposal to remove the National Bison Range from the Refuge System. My disappointment cannot be overstated and my hope is that the efforts of PEER and others to litigate against this legislative proposal will prevail.

  9. Jon Malcolm says:

    I have read comments from several supporters of keeping NBR owned by all Americans as a NWR. These include retired Refuge Managers, a former FWS Regional Director, Regional Supervisors and others. I agree entirely with and strongly second all their comments.

    Having served 13 years as NBR Refuge Manager, I must challenge your “We believe CSKT has played an essential role in the conservation and recovery of the American Bison…..” The first bison were brought to the Flathead by a member of another Tribe and there is no documentation that this was requested or approved by Tribal Council. This small herd was later bought by Pablo and Allard who were not Tribal members. They and their hired men cared for them, and there is no evidence that the Tribe paid for or participated in this. If the Tribe was truly interested in the recovery of bison and keeping some on the Reservation, they could have bought a small starter herd and kept all from going to Canada when Pablo and Allard were selling. The Tribe had plenty of land and could have started their own fenced herd. Did they do anything then for the recovery of bison?

    No they did not, and NWRA failed to tell the true story. Concerned Americans through the American Bison Society raised funds from donations from people in 29 States to purchase a small herd that remained in the U.S. off Reservation. Recorvery supporters convinced Government to buy and fence a permanent bison preservation, NBR. The only thing the Tribe had to do with this recovery was selling the land and accepting payment (and accepting once again later).

    In 1981, CSKT was again given the opportunity to help continue bison conservation when FWS donated a stater herd to them and assisted them in building a small set of corrals. Did the Tribe think enough of bison to continue? No, this herd was sold not too long after at the Missoula Livestock Auction. Hows that for Tribes “essential role in the conservation and recovery of American Bison”?

    It may be a waste of my time to bring a new element into comments and I’m sure you are tiring, but that is tough. Myself and others who have served to take care of these special places have the right to speak our piece. FWS and NWRA have been hoodwinked and are politically and shamefully abbrograting their mandated responsibilities to the American people.

  10. Joe Mazzoni says:

    I firmly believe that this is a seriously misadvised proposal that is not in the best interest of the National Bison Range, the National Wildlife Refuge System or the American public. Further, to use “trust status” as a vehicle for accomplishing the proposed transfer is a clear attempt to avoid the Congressionally mandated legal requirements that the American public….the owners of the Bison Range and Refuge System…. be directly and meaningfully involved in any decision-making process that involves the future management of the Bison Range, or any other fully and successfully functioning unit of the Refuge System. The proposed transfer is in direct conflict with the spirit and intent of these various legal requirements.

    Your position to support this proposal on the basis of “no net loss of habitat” compensation is ludicrous and indefensible on its face, and implies a capitulation on the part of the Association to the political forces at play in this issue and an unhealthy sense of obligation to support the position of the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in spite of the fact that his position is not in the best long term interest of the Bison Range or the Refuge System. It also contravenes the fundamental mission of the Association to protect individual refuges and the legacy of the Refuge System from threatening third party interests.

    Please note that when you begin your statement with, “We believe…”, you do not speak for me as a long time member of the Association, the Association’s California regional representative for two years, and a two-term member of the Association’s Board, or for any other member of the Association…

    As a former Project Leader of the Bison Range, let me tell you what’s so egregiously wrong with your “no net loss” rational:

    1. How do you replace the 108-year successful history of management that has resulted in the Bison Range becoming a truly historic icon of the Refuge System?

    2. How do you replace the decades long successful vegetative management efforts that have resulted in the preservation of a natural grassland community…an effort that has taken years and multiple refuge administrations, pursuing a common goal, to accomplish?

    3. How do you replace what is considered to be one of the purest genetic strains of American bison….our national mammal, by the way…that has taken 108 years and literally generations of competent management to achieve?

    4. How do you replace the multiple scientific, educational and recreational values of this wildlife and wild lands rich 18,000 plus acres refuge, that annually attracts over 200,000 visitors from throughout the nation and many parts of the World, and students and researchers from elementary through college level schools from throughout the region?

    5. How do replace the managerial expertise that has developed over those 108 years as reflected in the dedicated, permanent staffs that have served this marvelous wildlife area so faithfully all these years (many of whom have been so horribly treated during the course of this long standing issue)?

    You can’t. And anyone who understands refuge management and the values of this refuge (and respects its dedicated employees) knows that intuitively.

    I am strongly opposed to this proposal and your “no net loss” mythology.

    You need to rethink your position. There is far too much at stake, in terms of the truly awful, misguided precedent this action would create for the Refuge System.

    I ask only that my comments be made a part of the record, and that you spend some time reflecting on them and the position you’ve expressed in your statement.

  11. James R. Good says:

    Recently I learned of the proposal to transfer the NBR to the CSKT’s. I retired from the USFWS after 33+ years as an Assistant Refuge Manager and Refuge Manager on Refuges in most western states. I am disappointed in the NWRA’s proposal to transfer the NBR to the CSKT’s. The NBR has been a symbol for excellent wildlife management within the NWRS since the Refuge was established.

    After retiring from the USFWS, I worked for a Native American Indian Organization representing 59 Tribes dealing with bison management for 4 1/2 years before leaving. I saw how tribal administrations can change, particularly in relation to tribal bison herd management. I am concerned that management of the bison at the NBR could be greatly reduced in importance with administrative changes and could lead to serious management problems if the CSKT’s were granted management of the NBR.

    This proposal is one more example of the current Director of the USFWS making a decision due to pressure from private political organizations. This is not the way to manage the Refuge System for the people of the US and the wildlife found on individual Refuges. I am against the NWRA backing this proposal. They need to re-think their decision.

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