A federal official has rebutted complaints that the government is not working with Native American tribes and that it has put a trophy hunter in charge of removing the Yellowstone-area grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act protection.
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said tribes have been represented on a committee that’s recommending delisting the bear. The federal agency — not a single person — makes such recommendations based on science and study, she said.
Spokeswoman Serena Baker made her comments in response to a letter to federal officials from Tom Poor Bear, vice president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. In it he rails against the government saying, “the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Oglala Lakota people steadfastly stand in opposition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s [delisting] intention…”
Among the fears is that delisting will lead to hunting of grizzly bears, a species considered sacred to tribes. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, not the federal government, would decide on hunting after federal protections are removed, likely by the end of this year.
About 47,000 persons are enrolled Oglala Lakota members, according to the Pine Ridge Agency. “The Oglala Sioux Tribe strongly refutes claims made by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that it has attempted to engage in government-to-government consultation on this issue with the OST,” Poor Bear wrote Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and others on July 19. Such consultation is required by “a plethora of executive orders, secretarial orders, congressional acts and laws,” Poor Bear wrote.
But representatives of Yellowstone-area tribes have been members of a grizzly bear committee that’s recommending the end of federal protections, Baker said. The Yellowstone Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team lists Leander Watson of the Shoshone Bannock Tribes, Fort Hall, Idaho, and Ben Snyder with the Wind River Tribal Fish and Game Department in Lander as members.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reached out to federally recognized Native American tribes,” Baker said. “There are tribes in the ecosystem that participate in the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee. We’re still continuing to have an open dialog. That is an ongoing process.”
Oglala Sioux are one of 26 Associated Tribes of Yellowstone, Poor Bear said. “Continuing to ignore tribal nations on this issue is a violation of tribal sovereignty, an attack on our religious and spiritual freedoms, and a clear violation of the federal trust responsibility.”
Federal actions continue a pattern that date back to “the violation of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty,” and the “illegal 1874 Custer Expedition,” into the sacred Black Hills to support gold miners, Poor Bear wrote. Among tribes’ complaints are that delisting would open grizzly habitat to mining.
“In USFWS’s proposed delisting rule it acknowledges some 28 prospective mines in the heart of Greater Yellowstone — in our ancestral homelands and where many sacred sites exist in core grizzly habitat,” Poor Bear wrote. “According to USFWS, those mines could become operational upon the delisting of the grizzly bear.”
Baker dismissed the threat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to evaluate public comments regarding habitat protection and other measures that make up the draft conservation strategy and associated plans for the grizzly, she said. “We’re not to a final position.”
Among other things, the service is waiting for and studying Wyoming, Idaho and Montana management plans for the bear. “There are several steps yet before we can come to a final determination,” Baker said. The goal remains to remove federal protection by the end of the year. “That is still the timetable the USFWS is working on.”
Baker dismissed suggestions that a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official has a conflict as a former lobbyist for Safari Club International, a pro-hunting and conservation organization. Poor Bear wrote that Matt Hogan, deputy regional director for the Mountain Prairie Region, “is, in fact, a trophy hunter.”
No individual controls the future of the bear, Baker said. “I think it’s important to note the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s initial proposed delisting of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear population was back in 2007,” she said. “The decision to propose the delisting at this stage was not made by just one person. It’s based on decades of monitoring data and threats.
“The Yellowstone population through the IGBST is the most widely studied population of grizzly bears in the world. This decision is supported at all levels of the service.”