For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Inspector General Opens Bison Range Investigation
"Independent Evaluation" of Environmental, Financial and Operational Problems
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Interior Department Office of
Inspector will investigate tribal management of the National Bison
Range, according to a letter released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The action came in response to a
PEER complaint citing a host of deficiencies on the iconic century-old
refuge in Montana, ranging from poaching and other hunting violations to
bison deaths and injuries from inadequate staff training, and from
improper fencing to illegal pesticide applications.
Under an agreement that went into effect in January 2009, the
U.S. Interior Department transferred operation of the entire National
Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT). A
previous agreement for joint operation of the Bison Range with the CSKT
was cancelled in late 2006 due to performance-related issues, as well as
reported harassment of federal refuge employees by the CSKT.
Records obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act
indicate that several of the previous difficulties seem to be recurring
in the current arrangement, including inadequate law enforcement,
operational lapses as well as environmental violations. In a March 18,
2010 letter, Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote to PEER:
"Our Office of Audits, Inspections and Evaluations will conduct
an independent evaluation of the National Bison Range. Should we
identify any violations of law, regulation or policy, we will certainly
refer such information to the appropriate enforcement or programmatic
"This is welcome news and we have much more information to
share with the Inspector General," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch, noting that the current agreement with the CSKT at the National
Bison Range expires September 30, 2011. "The timing of the Inspector
General evaluation may determine whether, or under what conditions, this
arrangement continues at Bison Range."
Another factor affecting the future of National Bison Range is
ongoing litigation challenging the legality of the agreement. PEER has
brought one federal lawsuit to invalidate the delegation to the CSKT and
its co-plaintiffs include four former Bison Range managers, a former
Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System and a former Assistant
Interior Secretary, as well as a refuge employee whose job was
displaced. A similar suit has also been brought by the Blue Goose
Alliance, a group of retired refuge employees.
"In addition to violations, we will urge the Inspector General
to review whether provisions of the current agreement are actually being
carried out," Ruch added, pointing, for example, to the failure by the
CSKT to ever complete the "2009 Plan of Work" required under the
agreement and the absence of a work plan for 2010. "If there is no work
plan how can one determine whether the work is going according to
The issue of tribal management at Bison Range has national
implications in that, if upheld, more than three-quarters of the entire
National Wildlife Refuge System and nearly 60 National Parks, stretching
from Redwood to Cape Cod National Seashore, are eligible for similar
delegation pacts with Indian tribes.
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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.