For Immediate Release: Jan 29, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Lawsuit Settlement Charts New Course for Bison Range
To Resolve Peer Suit, Feds Pledge Transparent Planning Open to All Parties
Washington, DC — A new era may be dawning on the National Bison Range with today’s settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The main goal of the suit to block the transfer of Montana’s National Bison Range to a local tribe was fully realized in 2017 when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke dropped the proposed give-away. The lawsuit’s second goal is reintegrating Bison Range as a fully functioning part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
The settlement agreement between PEER and the Department of Justice, representing the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), goes a long way toward achieving this latter goal by providing:
- A schedule for adopting a Comprehensive Conservation Plan, or CCP, governing refuge operations. This long-overdue charter is required by law and the Bison Range is virtually the only one of the other 560 national wildlife refuges lacking such a management roadmap;
- A transparent and structured process for developing this CCP, including an FWS website laying out deadlines for each of the eight planning steps outlined in the agency manual, and an agreement that if FWS misses any of those internal deadlines, “FWS will post an explanation of the reason for the delay and of its plans to complete that step with an estimated date of completion;” and
- An equal place at the table for all the stakeholders, especially the State of Montana and Lake/Sanders Counties, not just the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CKST).
Under new timelines agreed to by FWS, the CCP will be complete by 2023, with no provision in the process for any new co-management or other arrangements with the CSKT.
“We are delighted to sign this settlement. Now it’s time to stop litigating and start building for the future,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that much of the CCP activity undertaken by the FWS Regional Office so far has been misdirected and in violation of the agency manual. “While the Regional Office has a role to play, it clearly is no substitute for the on-the-ground knowledge and leadership at the refuge level. This plan needs to be carried to term in Montana, not Denver.”
Now that the Bison Range’s status as a refuge is cemented, PEER is turning its attention to making sure it has adequate staff to accomplish its conservation mission. Today, the Bison Range has only four full-time staff – a drop of two-thirds since just 2013 and well below the 17 positions it had back in 2003. Current funding is also at a record low; the refuge has less than half of the budget it had in 2010.
“What good is a conservation plan if the Bison Range lacks the personnel to implement it?” asked Dinerstein, “All of these components must come together for the National Bison Range to reclaim its rightful place as the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.”