I wish to voice my strong objections to the proposal that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes be given possession of the National Bison Range located at Moiese.
Here is why I feel qualified to comment: I graduated from Cornell University College of Agriculture in 1961 and completed an additional course in range management at Montana State University. My 40-plus year career was beef cattle ranching near Polson.
My guiding principle during my ranching career was that good stewardship of the land was paramount to a successful ranch. I became active in the Society for Range Management and served on its board of directors and still serve on the endowment fund development committee. The society bestowed upon me their highest award for land stewardship. I also served on a National Academy of Sciences committee for four years, developing a new method of classifying the health of rangeland. The committee's work was published in a book entitled "Rangeland Health." Also, I served for 10 years on the Montana Noxious Weeds Advisory Council.
Therefore, I offer the following: In my 55 years living and working on the Flathead Indian Reservation, it is my overall observation that the CSKT is not able to properly manage the grazing lands under their control. The primary function of the management of rangeland is to maintain a desirable plant community, utilizing such tools as proper stocking rate and good grazing distribution of livestock. This requires suitable fencing, stock water development, noxious weed control and rotational grazing. It is my considered opinion that the tribes have fallen short in these areas of good rangeland stewardship.
Regarding range management on the National Bison Range, I have witnessed the progress the successive managers have made over the past five decades to improve the range, combat noxious weeds and maintain a stocking rate in balance with the forage resource, while at the same time providing a quality educational experience for visitors. What is to be gained by the transfer of ownership to an entity that has a mediocre track record of managing rangeland? There is no evidence that a transfer to the CSKT would improve the National Bison Range or that the current good management would be retained.
The National Bison Range is for all Americans to own as a part of our national wildlife refuge system. The American bison is now our national mammal. The National Bison Range should remain just that: a national treasure for all U.S. citizens and managed by a respected federal agency that has the knowledge and proven track record to maintain the refuge.
Another consideration is the fact that if the manager of the National Bison Range is not doing a satisfactory job, that person will have to answer to higher authority within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If the tribes achieve ownership and management of the Bison Range, the buck stops with the Tribal Council, an entity which is more political than professional.
In summary, a few facts and opinions:
1. American Bison were never native to the Flathead Valley. They are a Great Plains animal.
2. The American taxpayers have already paid the CSKT twice for the land on which the Bison Range is situated.
3. The National Bison Range is just that: a national wildlife refuge owned by all the people of the United States. It should not be given to an entity that claims to be another sovereign nation.
Therefore, I urge you to oppose the transfer of the National Bison Range to the CSKT. It should remain under the ownership of the United States and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as one of our country's wildlife refuges.