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Tribes Want Bigger Role in Grizzly Management

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed its decision to take the grizzly bear off the endangered species list. (Pat (Cletch) Williams/Flickr)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed its decision to take the grizzly bear off the endangered species list. (Pat (Cletch) Williams/Flickr)
January 24, 2017

HELENA, Mont. – Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has delayed its decision to take grizzlies off the endangered species list, native tribes are not the reason why – and that has many tribes wondering when they will play a bigger role in managing these bears.

USFWS was expected to decide before the Trump administration took office, but a deluge of public comments delayed the decision, possibly for six months.

Ben Nuvamsa of the Hopi Tribe says Native Americans have been promised a role consulting with the agency, but that promise hasn't been fulfilled.

"They had told us, when we met with them in Washington, D. C., that they would do what they can to consult with us and they had not yet done that," he said. "Having webinars and things like that is not consultation. Come to the table, we'll be there."

More than 120 tribal nations have signed a treaty to protect the grizzly bear, which has cultural significance to many tribes on the Great Plains. It has the most signatures of any tribal treaty in history, according to a spokesperson for the Piikani Nation.

Michael Thabault, director of ecological services for USFWS Mountain Prairie Region, says the delay was due in part to the 650,000 public comments submitted to the agency on delisting. He denies that tribes have not had a seat at the table, saying the agency is taking comments from tribes under consideration in its decision.

"We've also done what we consider to be formal government-to-government consultations with certain tribal chairmen and/or their tribal governance structures and so we've taken that input as well," Thabault stated.

However, Nuvamsa is hoping for more. He says he hopes one day, tribes and the agency can co-manage the bears and their habitat. He says because of the animal's sacred place in their communities, tribes are especially opposed to hunting the grizzly, which could be allowed if the species is delisted.

"Our culture and the way that we believe is that we are good land stewards for all wildlife, all plant species, animal species, the environment, the waters that we have, and the woodlands," Nuvamsa added.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT