April 12, 2012
Governor Schweitzer and federal officials meet with CSKT
By Kim Swaney
Governor Brian Schweitzer defends his decision to transfer 62 head of bison to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in eastern Montana during last Tuesday’s CSKT Tribal Council meeting. The Governor and officials from the Dept. of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service were near the conclusion of a two-day tour of bison managed across the state. (Kim Swaney photo)
PABLO — Governor Schweitzer along with federal officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, National Park Service and Dept. of Interior stopped long enough to allow the dust to settle while at CSKT headquarters to meet with the CSKT Tribal Council last Tuesday after touring the National Bison Range.
The visit to the NBR was part of a two-day excursion where state and federal officials observed 62 bison currently managed in eastern Montana on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation just days after Montana Representative Wayne Stahl (R-Saco) accused the Governor of violating SB212 which he had signed into law last year.
Senate Bill 212 calls for a management plan before wild buffalo or bison be released or transplanted onto private or public lands and outlines specific duties for the Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks in management of the majestic animals.
Upon the Governor’s arrival to the tribal complex, Schweitzer immediately addressed Stahl’s accusations of his attitude, and the non-chalant, intentional ignoring of the law. Stahl initially said he would ask the legislature to support impeaching the Governor.
“In the land of the Assiniboine Sioux and Gros Ventre tribes – it is a good day. There is a great deal of enthusiasm and pride among the tribes in having these genetically-pure bison,” said Schweitzer to the CSKT Tribal Council last Tuesday.
“Senate Bill 212 applies to private and public lands and does not apply to sovereign lands on Indian Reservations – sovereign lands that have been settled by case law after case law for the last 100 years,” affirmed Governor Schweitzer.
Schweitzer explained that the 62 bison currently at Fort Peck would provide valuable genetic data, which would be shared with officials over the forthcoming years and included a plan for the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap Reservations to keep a percentage of the offspring. The Governor also acknowledged that there is the possibility of partnering with NBR and tribal experts to provide bison from Yellowstone to the Moiese refuge – which was part of the reason for Interior, USFWS and NPS officials visiting sites across the state.Schweitzer said he was proud to make amends and it was a long time coming and long overdue for the state to return the buffalo to the Indian people here in Montana.
U.S. Fish and Willdlife Service Deputy Director Greg Siekaniec stated it was an “intense” visit with the Governor over bison management at Fort Peck with an audience on both sides of the fence and with the state. However, the visit on this side of Rockies with the NBR and NBR Manager Jeff King was very informative and the USFWS’ wishes for a continued partnership with the best success for the bison here in Montana.
Peggy O’Dell, Deputy Director for the National Park Service offered thanks from her program and stated that the NPS looked forward in helping in restoring bison here in Montana.
Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks says she could not add too much more to what had already been mentioned. Jacobson did say that according to information received from Dean Rundle, USFWS Refuges Regional Director, the Annual Funding Agreement with the CSKT was making good progress. As Acting Assistant Secretary, Jacobson oversees and coordinates policy decisions for the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We are excited for our friends to the east at Fort Peck and we look forward to finalizing the AFA,” said CSKT Tribal Chairman Joe Durglo.
CSKT Tribal Council welcomed state and federal officials and commended them for working with Fort Peck and Fort Belknap.
Vice Chair Carole Lankford said she needed to provide a little spring cleaning by mentioning other successes the Tribes have had with the state, such as the recognizing and receiving highway tax exemptions for tribal lands, services and the fee-to-trust lands, and not just for CSKT – but for all the tribes in Montana. Vice Chair Lankford also thanked the Governor for the $70,000 in Indian Country Economic Development funds CSKT received, which will be used for a variety of economic development considerations. The CSKT Tribal Council has already begun to review some of those options during their regularly scheduled meetings.
While the Tribal Council, state and federal officials continued with amiable talks, Governor Schweitzer’s trusty companion and Border collie, “Jag,” was quite at home and cat-napped during the entire meeting at the Governor’s feet.