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Tribes Left Out Again on Grizzly Delisting Decision

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken grizzlies off the Endangered Species List after more than four decades of protection. (beingmyself/Flickr)
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken grizzlies off the Endangered Species List after more than four decades of protection. (beingmyself/Flickr)
June 26, 2017

HELENA, Mont. — Native American tribes say they were once again on the outside looking in - this time as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to remove the grizzly bear in the Greater Yellowstone region from the Endangered Species List last week.

Since 2016, more than 120 tribal nations in the U.S. and Canada have signed the Grizzly Treaty to protect the species. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has vowed to improve consultation with tribes, but Ben Nuvamsa, former chairman of the Hopi Tribe, said on this decision, that didn't happen.

"It's not surprising, but it's not acceptable for our tribes to be ignored of our needs and our requests,” Nuvamsa said. "We wanted full consultation - meaningful consultation - with the Fish and Wildlife Service. But even though they promised us, that's not happening."

Zinke called the grizzly bear "one of the country's greatest conservation successes," citing the rise in population from fewer than 150 in the 1970s to around 700 today. But many scientists and conservationists say the species is still in a precarious position, especially with increasing threats from climate change.

Herb Welsh, spokesman for the Northern Arapaho Elders Society, said the decision could open up the region to extractive industries.

"That brings up another question of, okay, what's stopping them from opening up drilling or oil exploration?” Welsh said. "Those kinds of things - encroaching upon habitat that is not necessarily federally protected - that's been one of our biggest concerns."

The bears could also be subject to trophy hunting, as states take over responsibility for conservation efforts.

Nuvamsa said in the past, consultations with tribes on decisions like this have taken the form of webinars. He finds this unacceptable and said meetings need to take place face-to-face. He said the government needs to do a better job of including tribes in talks.

"Tribes are sovereign nations. In fact, tribes were here first,” he said. "Why is it that the federal government always looks at them as a second thought?"

Conservation groups are planning to file an injunction to fight the de-listing in court.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT