Tribal Wildlife Refuge Takeover Deeply Flawed

For Immediate Release

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
Contact: 

Grady Hocutt (315) 364-7495;
Bill Boteler (202) 265-7337

Tribal Wildlife Refuge Takeover Deeply Flawed

National Bison Range Deal Sets Precedent for 75 Other National Parks and Refuges

WASHINGTON - A deal set to take effect this month allows a Montana tribe to
assume operational control over the National Bison Range, considered
the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The plan is
studded with legal and practical failings which contributed to the
abrupt cancellation of an earlier arrangement, according to
congressional comments filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

This new agreement is a successor to a somewhat similar FY 2005
agreement which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service summarily
rescinded in December 2006 citing a host of performance-related issues
on the part of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT), as
well as reported mistreatment of FWS employees by the CSKT. The new
agreement, negotiated with top U.S. Interior Department officials,
transfers all jobs, except for a Refuge Manager and deputy, to the
CSKT.

"This agreement reads as if it was written by tribal lawyers because
on every issue it appears the CSKT got what it wanted," stated Grady
Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs the PEER refuge
program. "This deal settles a political score but does nothing to
benefit wildlife, the refuge or the refuge system. Instead, it aims to
minimize damage and disruption rather than enhance services."

Today is the last day to submit comments to congressional oversight
committees before the agreement becomes final later this month. PEER
argues that none of the earlier problems has been solved:

  • There is no mechanism to address rudeness or poor treatment
    of the public by CSKT staff. In addition, tribal records will not be
    subject to scrutiny under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • Every
    action by the Refuge Manager is subject to CSKT protest under a numbing
    five-step process in which any issue "unacceptable to the CSKT" may be
    elevated, though a four-stage process, to the Deputy Secretary of
    Interior (the number two top official), followed by further appeals;
    and
  • Federal employees who wish to stay on the Bison Range
    must work under CSKT supervision and can be removed by the tribe, even
    over the objections of FWS. Moreover, as in the prior pact, CSKT is
    awarded the salary and benefits of every federal employee who quits or
    is terminated.

"Interior sold out its people by, in essence, placing a bounty on
civil servants' heads," Hocutt added. "What we have is a contract in
which the contractor can't be held accountable for malfeasance or
abuse."

PEER also notes that whistleblowers may be compromised because all
complaints must be turned over "promptly" to the CSKT. In addition,
performance requirements would be negotiable and the CSKT can ask the
Interior Secretary to waive federal standards without public notice.

The implications of this agreement resound far beyond
the National Bison Range. According to official Interior
determinations, 57 National Park Service units in 19 states are listed
as eligible for similar tribal agreements, including national parks
such as Redwood, Glacier, Voyageurs, Olympic and the Cape Cod National
Seashore. Similarly, another 18 refuges in 8 states, including all of
the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges, are also eligible for similar
agreements. These eligible refuges constitute 80% of the land area of
the entire National Wildlife Refuge System.

Read the PEER comments

View the 2009-2011 Bison Range Funding Agreement

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