Bison Range’s Transfer Alarms Conservationists

     (CN) – The government’s plan to let Native Americans control the oldest wildlife refuge in the nation, a bison range, has drawn a federal court challenge.
     PEER, a nonprofit whose name is short for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, filed the complaint Monday in Washington, along with 10 individuals from various western states, including retired employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and former wildlife refuge managers for the National Bison Range.
     The range, located in Montana, was founded in 1908 to help recover the nearly extinct bison population. Today, there are between 300 and 400 of the animals that live in the federally protected range.
     Earlier this year, Fish and Wildlife started talks about transferring the National Bison Range into a federal trust benefitting the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
     Congress would have to approve the plan, but PEER wants an injunction to keep any such proposal from hitting lawmakers’ desks.
     PEER says Fish and Wildlife has not complied with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Refuge Act and the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act.
     An analysis of Fish and Wildlife emails shows that the talks in February came about after regulators failed to reach an agreement with the tribes on annual funding for joint management of the bison range, according to the complaint.
     PEER says the agency’s decision to sponsor that legislation without first preparing a full environmental impact statement “injures the recreational, professional, and educational interests of those PEER members who regularly view, study, write about and photograph wildlife in the [bison range].”
     Among other things, the plaintiffs say the bison herd at issue has unique genetic diversity, and “the refuge’s management of that herd is vital to the future of the bison as a healthy native species that is genetically pure or with very low hybridization.”
     PEER senior counsel Paula Dinerstein, of Silver Spring, Md., filed the complaint for the group.
     The bison refuge has not returned an email seeking comment.

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