CSKT, Montana Legislators At Odds Over Yellowstone Grizzly Delisting

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have come out against the proposal to remove Yellowstone grizzlies from the Endangered Species List.

The CSKT (of the Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana) has joined several other Yellowstone region tribes in opposing the measure, echoing protests voiced late last year.

We previously reported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) was hoping to delist Yellowstone grizzly bears and transfer management duties to Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho wildlife agencies. Each state has said they are interested in limited trophy hunts as a part of management duties.

According to the Flathead Beacon, the CSKT opposes the move on several grounds, most notably that the grizzly bear has an important place in CSKT tradition—which includes a taboo on hunting the bears; they mean too much to kill:

Dale Becker, the wildlife program manager for the CSKT, said the tribes submitted a formal letter last week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service explaining their opposition, which aligns with other tribal governments in the region that have come out against the proposal.

Becker said the tribes commended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its efforts to recover the population of grizzlies across the entire state, but “the real sticking point is the plan to including hunting by the three states.”

“That’s the sticking point for a whole group of tribes,” Becker said.

“We had discussions with representatives from both our culture committees, the Kootenai and the Salish, and the thing that came out was members of this tribe traditionally didn’t hunt grizzly bears and the species was held in pretty high reverence from a cultural and spiritual standpoint.”

Becker said the potential hunting season presented a big concern to the CSKT. Historically, the Flathead Reservation banned hunting of grizzlies early on after the species was listed as threatened under the ESA in 1975. Hunting was allowed in much of Northwest Montana until 1991, when a federal judge when a federal district judge issued an injunction halting the season and the USFWS revoked the special rule.

The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho have also come out against the Yellowstone delisting.

“No grizzly bears will be hunted on Shoshone-Bannock lands, and the Shoshone-Bannock will oppose any attempts to hunt grizzlies in their recognized ancestral homelands,” the tribes stated in March.

The CSKT formally submitted their letter shortly after the comment period regarding the USFWS’ draft proposal ended May 10. Thousands submitted comments online, with many more sent by snail mail. Indeed, the CSKT (and other tribes) join a growing roster of opponents, ranging from organizations such as the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife to individuals such as former Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team researcher David Mattson.

The announcement also puts them at odds with various Montana legislators, both in-state and in Washington, according to the Beacon:

“Animals are put on the endangered list because they are facing extinction and I think this is a success story,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, said last week while visiting Kalispell. “Quite frankly if they’re recovered, we can rejoice, and I think we need to manage them. I think this could be a real success story much like wolves if in fact the science bears it out and then we should move forward and mange them appropriately and continue to monitor them.”

Tester said he supports hunting grizzlies as a form of management.

The proposed delisting of the Yellowstone grizzlies could set the stage for other populations to transition to delisted status and state management, including the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem in Northwest Montana.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, said in March he hopes the delisting would help “clear the way for responsible management of the species and more responsible management of our natural resources, including our National Forests.” He also said he would encourage the USFWS to delist other grizzly populations in the state can follow suit in the coming years.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, said he welcomed the opportunity for the state to manage the species.

“Montanans should be in charge of managing our wildlife for the betterment of the state,” Bullock stated. “I am excited that we can again have that opportunity and we will do so in a responsible way that is reflective of our values, and the value of this iconic species.”

Similarly, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke said it would be best for Montana to manage the species over the federal government.

As previously reported, the USFWS hopes to have a final ruling on the delisting proposal ready by the end of 2016, or by March 2017.

About Sean Reichard

Sean Reichard is the editor of Yellowstone Insider and author of Yellowstone Insider For Families 2017.

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