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The National Bison Range’s transition to the Flathead Nation Bison Range continues with a full renewal planned by the new year
MOIESE – This is a centerpiece of the December 2019 resolution of the Flathead Nation Federal Pact on Reserved Water Rights. Water is life, but the transfer of the national bison range managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to the Flathead Nation is a spiritual breath the tribes have run out of steam for since 1908. It was at this point that the United States withdrew 18,800 acres from the Flathead Indian Reservation against the will of the tribes to establish the National Bison Range.
Since the announcement in 2019 that the Flathead Nation would once again have possession of the 18,800 acres, and in parallel with the management of the future former NBR, 111 years of gasping breath have been exhaled and the spiritual breath has been inhaled. This has fueled the management authority long sought by the NBR. The Flathead Nation has since stepped up its management transition efforts and aims for the transfer to be completed by early 2022, a year ahead of the planned federal timeline.
USFWS will continue to oversee the management of the Western Montana National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) complex, which on the Flathead Preserve includes the Ninepipes and Pablo NWR, and the Northwestern Montana Wetland Management District (Lake County).
“It was like drinking from a fire hose,” said Leonard Gray, Bison Park Coordinator, of the Flathead Nation Field Boots that evolve into the management of the former Bison National Park. “In our first year, we want to do it right. “
The management of the Flathead NBR will be the responsibility of the Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Division of the Department of Natural Resources, which is managed by Tom McDonald.
The maintenance and modernization of facilities is one of the things to be done properly, which, due to the long lack of federal funding, allows the maintenance of these federal facilities to be properly managed.
“There’s a lot of remedial maintenance to be done here,” Gray said. “It’s going to take a few years to do it.
Repairing and upgrading fences is high on the to-do list.
Staffing is also high on the to-do list. Many former NBR employees have retired or sought employment elsewhere. The Flathead Nation is in the process of filling some of these positions as well as newly created positions for a smooth transition of management from the USFWS to the Flathead Nation.
“It’s going to take a team effort here, and we’ve been very fortunate to hire some really strong people who want to work here,” said Gray.
Gray said it was an “absolute honor” and “spiritually refreshing” to work at the Flathead Nation Bison Range.
“I live in Hot Springs and I worked in Missoula and every day to get to and from work I passed by here,” he said. “The thought at the back of my mind was the fences around the National Bison Range. They were erected to keep the bison inside but also to prevent the Indians from entering. It was the feeling. It was as if Indians were not wanted here. That feeling in me is gone, and being a part of it makes me think that people – all people – will be welcome here. The door is open for them.
Gray said the Flathead Nation’s import and management of FNBR is another entry to the top of Ravalli Hill.
“People from all over the country stop here. It takes a little time, money and patience, but they come here, ”he said. However, many people traveling on Highway 93 do not take the time to visit the bison range. Entrance and other amenities atop Ravalli Hill would siphon off some H-93 traffic, revealing the history of the Bison Range and the Flathead Nation, as well as culturally-based ecosystem management capabilities and science to a wider range of the American and international homeless population. .
“An entry from Ravalli Hill is a viable option,” McDonald said in a previous interview. “It provides shorter access to the Bison Range. Our goal is to move away from the Moiese entrance by passing an entrance to Highway 93. ”
McDonald said that 90 percent of the more than 200,000 annual visitors to the Bison Range access it via US Freeway 93 at the junction of Highway 200 Ravalli or the junction of Highway 212 in Montana south of Ronan. Access to Ravalli hill would be better suited to vehicle-only access as well as to passenger vehicles which are common on Highway 93 in summer.
Tribes will transition from FNBR fleet to electric vehicles; there will be a charging station for them and another for the public.
Gray said an addition to the electric fleet could be tourist buses to transit them on the FNBR tour. This would reduce wear and tear on FNBR roads, thereby reducing maintenance costs.
The FNBR visitor center is currently undergoing renovations, in particular the small theater is being turned into a gift shop, and displays in the visitor center will be redone to reflect the tribal heritage CKST.
The long journey to find the old NBR and ownership is over, but a new long journey begins. There will be bumps and potholes along the way, but it will be the Flathead Nation driving and tasked with leveling the bumps by filling in the potholes.