Washington, DC —The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has cancelled a controversial Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) for shared management of the National Bison Range Complex (NBRC) and terminated negotiations with the CSKT for FY 2007, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The March 2005 agreement had awarded half of the positions and funding for the National Bison Range, and the nearby Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, to the CSKT. The FY 2006 agreement lapsed in September but had been extended on a provisional basis pending completion of negotiations for the FY 2007 Annual Funding Agreement.
In a letter to the Chairman of the Tribal Council dated December 11, 2006, the FWS’s Regional Director stated that the agreement was cancelled due to a host of performance-related issues on the part of the CSKT, as well as reported mistreatment of FWS employees by the CSKT. The letter cited wide-ranging failures including unacceptable and unusable biological data collection and reporting, non-compliance with prescribed bison management and husbandry protocols, and negligence with vehicle and equipment maintenance, facilities, security and management. It also described the workplace environment at the NBRC as “characterized by harassing, offensive, intimidating and oppressive behavior on the part of employees of CSKT, including obscenity, fighting words, and threats of violence and retaliation directed at employees of the Service.”
The AFA was originally implemented by then-Secretary of Interior Gayle Norton and her subordinates Craig Manson, Steven Griles, and Paul Hoffman, who steamrolled it through despite strenuous opposition by 129 senior refuge managers from across the U.S. and over 40 national and regional environmental organizations. During pre-agreement negotiations and the 20-month AFA itself, a number of high-ranking and mid-level FWS career persons were threatened with “career-altering consequences” if they did not accommodate CSKT wishes.
Negotiations for a new AFA broke down after the tribes initiated demands for a 3-year phased, but total turnover of the entire budget and all 20 positions (including the manager’s slot and all law-enforcement positions) to the CSKT. These demands, on top of an exceedingly poor first-year performance review and increasing hostilities by tribal leaders toward USFWS staff, finally led director Dale Hall and other senior USFWS administrators to the December 11th action.
“Events of the past 2 years have created deep schisms in the communities of Western Montana,” observed Grady Hocutt, a former long-time refuge manager who directs PEER's refuge program. “They were created by political appointees in DC for no good reason except political expediency and animosity toward federal land management. It will take years of hard work and good faith by all sides to put the pieces back together. None of these sad events had to happen.” Hocutt pointed out, however, that there are other means – cooperative agreements, MOU’s, contracts, etc. – which could allow options for CSKT participation.