Published July 23, 2016
PINE RIDGE INDIAN RESERVATION — The Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) is calling for a Congressional investigation into the conduct of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and one of its leading officials after concluding that the Service “is not, the evidence suggests, conducting this process in good faith with either the OST or any other tribal nation.” The process in question is the delisting of the Yellowstone grizzly bear. Tribal nations from Canada to the Rio Grande hold the grizzly to be sacred and an integral part of traditional ceremonies. Some thirty tribes identify sacred sites on lands where the grizzly will be trophy hunted if USFWS delists the Great Bear from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In its July 19 letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the OST charges that USFWS “has been tarnished by violations of the Dept. of Interior’s Scientific Integrity Policy, with two investigations related to the Keystone XL Pipeline that resulted in ‘findings of misconduct and loss of integrity,’ according to Interior’s Inspector General.” Central to the complaint is USFWS Mountain-Prairie Region Deputy Director, Matt Hogan, who has acted as point man to the handful of tribes the government has actually opened a cursory dialogue with on grizzly delisting.
“It is a conflict of interests when one of USFWS’s deputy directors, Matt Hogan, the official charged with supposedly contacting tribes, is, in fact, a trophy hunter and was formerly Safari Club International’s chief lobbyist to Capitol Hill. It has been revealed that Hogan also has ties to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, one of the world’s largest energy companies,” writes OST Vice President, Tom Poor Bear.
According to its corporate profile, Anadarko is “one of the largest landowners and leaseholders in the state of Wyoming” and has major fracking operations in the state. Anadarko was once the third largest campaign finance contributor to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, and is the third, fifth and sixth highest contributor respectively to Wyoming senators Mike Enzi, John Barrasso, and Rep. Cynthia Lummis. All are outspoken supporters of grizzly delisting. Anadarko was instrumental in aiding Mead’s effort to stop the sage grouse from being listed under the ESA, and the energy giant describes itself as working in “partnership” with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD).
USFWS’s Hogan’s known connection to Anadarko is through former Secretary of the US Army, Congressman Preston M. Geren III, who retired from Anadarko’s board of directors in 2014. Hogan previously served as Legislative Director for Congressman Geren. Hogan declined to comment when asked about Anadarko. “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 continues to Jewell. Anadarko is known in Indian Country for its $5.15 billion settlement of one of the largest pollution cases in history, which included $1 billion for the Navajo Nation to address health issues and drinking water contaminated by uranium.
Before being appointed Acting Director of the USFWS during President George W. Bush’s administration, Hogan was Government Affairs Manager for Safari Club International, the world’s most prolific trophy hunting organization, and was policy director of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. Upon becoming Deputy Director of USFWS, the National Shooting Sports Foundation lauded Hogan as “a lifelong hunter and shooter.” Hogan took his seat at USFWS in the wake of Bush’s Interior Secretary, Gayle Norton, quashing President Bill Clinton’s grizzly reintroduction program to Idaho’s Bitterroot Wilderness. Idaho’s then governor, Dirk Kempthorne, objected to what he called “massive, flesh-eating carnivores” being returned to Idaho. When Bush appointed Kempthorne to replace Norton as Secretary of Interior, he praised Hogan’s “love for hunting.” Hogan didn’t respond to emails asking about his past and present associations with Safari Club.
In some fifty resolutions and declarations, every tribe arrayed in opposition to grizzly delisting denounces trophy hunting the sacred bear. “What they are trying to do to the grizzly population is hurting us spiritually because our ceremonies are connected to them,” begins Chief Arvol Looking Horse. “As you walk upon the earth you are going to recognize that everything has a spirit. Like the grizzly bear knows because it is a spirit. Our way is to understand how everything in this life is about how sacred spirit is, but they want to trophy hunt this sacred spirit. The grizzly is our relative,” explains the 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Great Sioux Nation.
Under the banner “This Drumbeat is the Grizzly’s Heartbeat,” tribes with GOAL Tribal Coalition have proposed an alternative to USFWS’s sanctioned state plans to trophy hunt the Yellowstone grizzly. “If, as the government claims, Yellowstone is at ‘carrying capacity’ for grizzlies, which the leading biologists repudiate, we advocate relocating the quota that would be trophy hunted to sovereign tribal lands where biologically suitable habitat exists in the Great Bear’s historic range. This will provide for true population recovery, linkage zones between isolated populations, and bring cultural, environmental, and economic revitalization to Native communities across the western states,” says GOAL Chairman, David Bearshield. Former President Bill Clinton has expressed support for the tribes’ and this plan.
Directors of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho’s fish and game agencies recently submitted fifteen pages of amendments to USFWS that would relax what trophy-hunting safeguards there are in the delisting rule. “The states are concerned with the proposed rule’s discussion of discretionary hunting of grizzly bears,” write Talbott, Hagener, and Moore. However, each state’s plan has a heavy emphasis on trophy hunting, and commissions in Wyoming and Montana have already approved grizzly hunting regulations, while Idaho’s is in motion. “They realize that 99 percent of the American people abhor trophy hunting, so the states want the spotlight shifting from the specter of their clientele mugging for the camera over the bloody corpses of the most iconic being in the most iconic landscape in America,” says Bearshield.
The conflict of interests raised by the OST has extended into the peer reviewers of USFWS’s delisting rule, according to Bearshield. One of the reviewers, Mark Boyce, formerly worked with the rule’s principal author, USFWS’s former “Grizzly Czar,” Chris Servheen, while research shows that the others have no actual experience with Yellowstone’s grizzlies.
The OST draws parallels “between the Service’s conduct now” and Custer’s 1874 Expedition into the Black Hills. “The government entered the Black Hills under a false pretense, as we see once again in this instance with delisting the grizzly bear. This decision is driven by political special interests, not science, and is about the exploitation of 2 million acres of land that is a matrix of tribal sacred sites that are yet to be fully catalogued and protected,” states Vice President Poor Bear in the letter.
“Custer became one of the first trophy hunters of the grizzly,” begins James Walks Along, the Northern Cheyenne tribal government’s recognized spokesman on delisting. “The government took the Black Hills for the mineral resources and to run livestock. In this day and age we have companies looking to exploit the natural resources in one of the last places the grizzly survives, so in Greater Yellowstone we’re trying to protect what was lost in the Black Hills,” he says.
Walks Along, a descendant of a Little Bighorn battle veteran, warns that trophy hunters “like Custer did back then” will “destroy a part of us and our lives” by killing the grizzly. “My children will probably never experience these sacred beings if grizzly delisting is allowed to open up these doors. We intend to stop what Custer started,” he vows.