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A proposal by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines to convey the National Bison Range to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes has generated a mixture of excitement, concern, and outright opposition in Montana.

The provision, included in a broader bill settling the historic water rights claims of the CSKT, would restore the 18,800-acre range to federal trust ownership on behalf of the CSKT and transfer management of the range from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the tribes. According to CSKT tribal attorney Brian Upton, the return of the bison range to the tribes was first pitched by FWS several years ago following a number of unsuccessful attempts to re-establish a co-management agreement — a history Upton described as “difficult and a bit of a roller coaster.”

“That’s certainly not anything we had asked for before the service raised it,” Upton said of the conveyance. “But it’s clearly an elegant solution to everything, and all it does is restore the bison range to its status before the federal government took it from the tribes.”


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