Interior Transfers National Bison Range Lands In Trust To BIA For Salish/Kootenai Tribes Of Flathead Reservation

In an important move to restore Tribal homelands, the Department of the Interior announced this week the transfer of all lands comprising the National Bison Range, approximately 18,800.22 acres, to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be held in trust for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The lands, which are completely within the boundaries of the reservation, were transferred to the Bureau from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“The establishment of the National Bison Range was an historic use of lands to preserve wildlife, but we must also acknowledge that this act reduced the Salish and Kootenai peoples’ homeland by thousands of acres,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Indian Affairs Bryan Newland. “The return of these lands back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is truly a significant milestone in their relationship with the Interior Department and the United States.”

“Today’s announcement marks the official return of the Bison Range lands and resources to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes,” said Martha Williams, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director. “The CSKT is a leader in conservation of natural resources throughout Montana, and the Service looks forward to continuing to work together to conserve wildlife and wild places throughout the state.”

The National Bison Range was established on May 23, 1908, when President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation authorizing funds to purchase land for bison conservation. It was the first time Congress appropriated tax dollars to buy land specifically to preserve wildlife.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (Public Law 116-260), approved the transfer by repealing the statute that created the NBR. It also includes a two-year period for transitioning the Range’s management from the USFWS to the Tribes.

The National Bison Range Complex, part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, consists of the National Bison Range, Swan Lake, Lost Trail, Pablo and Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuges, and the Northwest Montana Wetland Management District.  Established to conserve the American Bison, the Bison Range and ancillary properties provide important habitat for a variety of species such as elk, pronghorn antelope and migratory birds. 

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are comprised of the Bitterroot Salish, the Pend d’Oreille, and the Kootenai Tribes.  The Tribes occupy the 1.3 million acre Flathead Reservation in northwestern Montana. 

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