The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: Email:,

Lawsuit to Block Tribal Takeover of National Wildlife Refuge

Bison Range Deal Cedes “Inherently Federal” Functions and Bars Public Oversight


A Bush administration deal giving operational control over the
National Bison Range to a Montana tribe for the next three years is
illegal, according to a federal lawsuit filed today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This precedent-setting
arrangement has national repercussions, as another 18 refuges in 8
states, constituting 80% of the entire National Wildlife Refuge System,
are eligible for similar tribal agreements. So are 57 National Parks in
19 states, including parks such as Redwood, Glacier, Voyageurs, Olympic
and the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Plaintiffs bringing the suit feature four former Bison Range refuge
managers whose tenures span 40 years, a former Chief of the National
Wildlife Refuge System and Nathaniel Reed, former Assistant Interior
Secretary during the Nixon and Ford administrations, as well as a
current Bison Range employee whose job is being displaced. The suit
cites violations of federal laws which -

  • Forbid outsourcing "inherently federal functions" as well as
    require that operational control of all refuges remain with the U.S.
    Fish & Wildlife Service;
  • Ensure public access to
    financial and other records maintained by federal contractors and
    mandate a full and open review of environmental impacts of major
    federal actions; and
  • Shield federal employees from job loss
    at the direction of groups outside the federal government and guarantee
    return rights once the agreement ends.

"The National Bison Range agreement improperly contracts out
operation of a major federal facility without adequate oversight to
protect taxpayers," stated PEER senior counsel Paula Dinerstein, who
filed the action today in U.S. District Court for the District of
Columbia. "Ceding substantial control over a national refuge requires
an act of Congress and cannot legally be given away in a closed-door

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summarily rescinded in December 2006 citing a host of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

"This arrangement seems designed to settle a political debt rather
than enhance the refuge mission," Dinerstein added. "In fact, the
agreement itself concedes that wildlife-related services will likely

Called the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System, the
National Bison Range is one of the nation's oldest refuges and
celebrated its centennial this past May. .


See the PEER suit

Look at who are the key plaintiffs

Learn more about the Bison Range agreement

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.