Published April 4, 2016
Describing it as “a clear and present danger to tribal sovereignty, tribal spiritual and religious freedoms, and self-determination,” the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) issued a strongly worded condemnation of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposed rule to delist the Yellowstone grizzly bear from Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections. The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) also circulated a letter that warned of “irreparable harm to tribal rights” if the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly is “left unchallenged.” Between them, the organizations represent 27 tribes across six states.
Both assemblies have previously passed resolutions opposing delisting, and have been highly critical of FWS’s failure to conduct “meaningful” consultation with impacted tribes. At a November 2015 meeting, tribal leaders lobbied FWS Director Dan Ashe to include tribal voices in the Conservation Strategy. Subsequently, Oglala Lakota President, John Yellowbird Steele, informed Interior that tribes “must be signatories of the Conservation Strategy and included in all subsequent discussions,” but the appeals went unheeded.
The delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly bear hinges upon the adoption of the Conservation Strategy that tribes were shut out of, but FWS’s delisting rule states, “the 2016 Conservation Strategy will be implemented and funded by Federal, Tribal and State agencies.”
“The Feds are pulling a Donald Trump on tribes. Grizzly delisting and trophy hunting is the Feds and states’ equivalent of Trump’s wall. Tribes don’t want it, it disrespects our culture and stamps all over our rights, but now they expect us to pay for it,” says Oglala Lakota Vice President, Tom Poor Bear. “We’re not going to pay a dime. We’re fighting to protect the sacred grizzly, not enable them to trophy hunt our relative,” he promises.
According to the rule, the estimated $3.8 million per year price tag will affect tribes “within the GYE,” but the federal government recognizes 26 nations as Associated Tribes of Yellowstone, a list that includes the Oglala Lakota and tribes as far afield as Oklahoma.
“This will most directly impact the Shoshone-Bannock, Eastern Shoshone, and Northern Arapaho, who retain seats on Interior’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC), and could, in effect, hold those tribes to ransom to adopt states’ policies and plans for the grizzly bear,” cautions the RMTLC email.
FWS’s Mountain-Prairie Region office has listed on its website what it considers to be outreach to tribes for government-to-government consultation, a classification rejected by the GPTCA. “This is not government-to-government consultation, and by no measure do the stock letters issued by FWS, the random phone calls it has placed, and a sham webinar tribes boycotted constitute meaningful consultation,” writes GPTCA Executive Director, A. Gay Kingman, one of Indian Country’s most respected leaders.
FWS has invited tribes to attend what is has dubbed “consultation meetings” in Bozeman, MT (4/28) and Rapid City, SD (5/5). “These two meetings come at the end of the public comment period, and clearly demonstrate a lack of good faith, and FWS should be held accountable for this, not rewarded by attendance,” continues Executive Director Kingman. “FWS, it appears, simply wants to inform tribes of what it intends to do, and what the states intend to do, as the rule is already written and published in the Federal Register,” Kingman concludes.
The GPTCA and RMTLC were among the first tribal bodies to question that FWS was basing its decision to delist the grizzly upon what it calls “the best available science.” Virtually all of the resolutions passed by tribes dispute that claim amid concerns of bias and politicization. IGBC representatives have alleged that tribes don’t comprehend the ESA’s scientific bar. Both a recent study and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) support the tribes’ contention.
In the Center for Science and Democracy’s report, Progress and Problems: Government Scientists Report of Scientific Integrity at Four Agencies, 73% of FWS scientists revealed that “too much weight” was given to political influence. “Ultimately, the USFWS would be improved the most if we could make decisions based solely on the science, instead of having to balance those decisions with politics,” submitted one respondent.
Documents obtained via FOIA by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) expose a pattern of politicization at the expense of scientific integrity at FWS. In summer 2013, the Interior Department’s Inspector General criticized FWS Director Ashe for his handling of “scientific misconduct” related to a preliminary assessment of the impact the Keystone-XL pipeline would have on an endangered species. Interior’s Scientific Integrity Review Panel cited multiple violations in its ensuing report.
While the investigation was ongoing, the bogus Keystone-XL assessment formed the basis of an article published in a scientific journal that the review panel later declared might, “mislead proponents who could see it as the best available science.” The FOIA documents do not surprise GOAL Co-Founder, R. Bear Stands Last. “Those engaged in the grizzly issue will recognize this pattern,” he says. Bear Stands Last’s Wyoming’s Grizzly Harvest was just published and confronts similar issues. Dr. David Mattson, one of the world’s foremost grizzly bear biologists, describes the book as “a compelling case” against “corrupt state wildlife management agencies.”
PEER provided the Associated Press with other FWS documents it obtained by FOIA that concerned the delisting of both the gray and Mexican wolves, and the news agency reported: “The documents show the government weighed a variety of factors beyond gray wolf survival, including economic impact on the livestock industry, public tolerance and other issues outside the scope of the ESA.”
“I’m calling upon our friends in the environmental community to join with us as they have over the Keystone-XL pipeline. The grizzly in Greater Yellowstone is all that stands between corporate energy barons, mining, timber and livestock industries, and the desecration of that sacred land,” Vice President Poor Bear declares. During last fall’s Blackfoot Confederacy meeting, Chairman Harry Barnes of the Blackfeet Nation expressed optimism that the coalition that gathered to protect Badger-Two Medicine might aid with the grizzly.
“To take our grizzly that is so sacred to us and delist it infringes upon the bear’s culture and ours as we are tied as one,” explains Blackfeet Councilwoman Cheryl Little Dog. “Delisting the grizzly will impact the Badger-Two Medicine as it will despoil that sacredness. The states and the federal government all need to back off as this is an attack upon our sovereignty and culture,” she says.
Bordering Blackfeet country, internationally admired elder, Salish-Kootenai traditional leader, Johnny Arlee, has denounced the proposed delisting of the grizzly bear. Mr. Arlee said his message to would-be trophy hunters is: “Go home, and leave this sacred being alone and leave our sacred lands. Make use of your money to help people. These rich trophy hunters need to learn that the grizzly bear is not a toy to play with. The grizzly bear is very important to us, is very sacred.”
“We must listen to our elders,” says GOAL Chairman, David Bearshield. “We just lost a great man, Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow. The wisdom of our elders is irreplaceable.” Dr. Medicine Crow supported the Crow Tribe’s opposition to grizzly delisting, and Bearshield said GOAL would continue the fight in Dr. Medicine Crow’s memory.
“Grizzly bears, we call them our brothers. They play an important part in our culture and we’d like to keep it that way. On vision quests we will sing to them to try and make contact with them, to be one with them, to receive their power,” Dr. Medicine Crow told Native News Online in 2015.“It’s not grizzly bears that are problematic it’s man. The way he reacts and the way he treats grizzly bears and other animals. So I repeat, we have to control man himself and keep grizzly bears alive.”