Tribes, federal officials make progress over bison reserve management

Posted at 5:20 p.m September 5, 2003.

DENVER (AP)—American Indian tribes and federal officials made significant progress Friday in negotiating for the tribes to manage an 18,500-acre bison reserve in Montana, government officials said.

"We did not reach any conclusive agreement, but meetings are likely to continue," said Matt Kales of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "This was a constructive meeting."

The Montana tribes held two days of meetings with the Interior Department and the wildlife service in Denver to discuss an annual funding agreement, which would allow the tribes to perform certain programs and services at the National Bison Range.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes want to manage the prairie reserve, which sits entirely within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana.

"I feel progress was made, and I think we can reach an annual funding agreement with which all parties will be happy," Fred Matt, the tribes' chairman, said in a statement Friday.

If approved, it would the first agreement of its kind between tribes and the Fish and Wildlife service. Under a 1994 law, tribes can apply to run federal refuges if the tribe has cultural, geographic or historic links to the land.

Opponents fear the move, if approved, would erode public control of the reserve and lead to similar changes at other refuges –something tribal and federal officials deny.

Editor’s note: For more information and commentary on tribal management of national wildlife refuges, please read the article National Bison Range Update by Lisa Morris.