Published September 3, 2016
WINDOW ROCK – In a strongly worded letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez reaffirmed the Navajo Nation’s “opposition to the delisting from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of the grizzly bear in the Yellowstone region, and remains in solidarity with the now fifty-plus federally recognized Indian tribes, which stand in opposition to this policy.” The declaration comes in the wake of an equally forceful message of support addressed to Standing Rock Sioux Chairman Dave Archambault over the Dakota Access Pipeline. Chairman Archambault was one of the first tribal leaders to formally oppose the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly.
In their letter to Secretary Jewell, President Begaye and Vice President Nez recognize the imprint of multinational energy interests on grizzly delisting, the pattern that has been identified as connecting the Dakota Access and grizzly struggles. “It is very troubling to see the influence of corporate energy companies on this delisting decision. Engaging a multinational oil and gas services company, Amec Foster Wheeler, to be responsible for the peer review process of the grizzly delisting rule raises serious questions,” the President and Vice President write. “A former Halliburton executive now runs this company, and much of the information relative to corporate energy company connections has only been revealed through the filing of Freedom of Information Act requests,” they continue.
US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) spokeswoman, Serena Baker, recently “dismissed” similar concerns raised by the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) in its call for a Congressional investigation into USFWS’s “misconduct” in the delisting process and “conflict of interest” concerns surrounding USFWS Deputy Director, Matt Hogan. Hogan has consistently declined to comment on apparent connections to Anadarko Petroleum and Gas, the largest leaseholder and landowner in Wyoming. In 2014, Anadarko settled of one of the largest pollution cases in history for $5.15 billion, which included $1 billion for the Navajo Nation to address health issues from drinking water contaminated by uranium.
“We are concerned that the grizzly bear is now even closer to losing its ESA status and being in the crosshairs of trophy hunters,” the Navajo leaders impress upon Jewell in the letter. Hogan, USFWS’s leading delisting agent, was formerly chief lobbyist to Capital Hill for Safari Club International, the trophy hunting industry leader that has received the support of USFWS Director, Dan Ashe. Recognizing that trophy hunting the grizzly is unacceptable to the vast majority of the American people, Baker and her state counterparts are now seeking to downplay the trophy hunting of the iconic bear, even though the states’ post-delisting management plans are based around high-dollar trophy tags. In common with the other tribes arrayed against delisting, the grizzly has a sacred role in Navajo culture, spanning the realms from the mountains to the stars.
USFWS’s Baker says the agency has contacted “all Native American tribes that are federally recognized west of the Mississippi” about consultation, a claim contradicted by several leaders of diverse but similarly impacted nations, including Chief Charles Weasel Head of the Blood Tribe, OST President John Steele, and Chairman Herman Honanie of the Hopi Nation. Joining that list, President Begaye and Vice President Nez write, “To the least, the Navajo Nation request government to government consultation on this matter.” Tribal nations continue to underscore the absence of “meaningful” consultation on grizzly delisting. The Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in America, is the latest. “A stock letter addressed ‘Dear Tribal Leader’ does not constitute ‘meaningful’ tribal consultation. The mandated ‘pre-decisional’ aspect to consultation was violated when USFWS published its proposed grizzly delisting rule, and has subsequently informed the world that it intends to have protections removed from the grizzly by year’s end,” explains GOAL Tribal Coalition Chairman, David Bearshield.
Adding to the contention, Baker recently implied to respected Wyoming-based journalist Angus Thuermer that the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes of Idaho, the Eastern Shoshone, and the Northern Arapaho were all in accord with delisting the grizzly, due to their seats on the “Yellowstone Subcommittee of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.” However, the facts again contradict Baker. The Shoshone-Bannock and the Eastern Shoshone were among the first tribes to pass resolutions and declarations opposing the delisting and trophy hunting of the grizzly bear. The Northern Arapaho was subsequently party to the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council resolution against delisting.
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes Sergeant-at-Arms and former Vice Chairman Lee Juan Tyler has been one of Indian Country’s most vocal opponents of grizzly delisting, and was a member of the tribal delegation that met with USFWS Director Dan Ashe in November 2015 to protest the removal of federal protections from the Great Bear. “Ms. Baker’s claims are not worth wasting a statement on. One word will suffice: ridiculous,” responds former Blackfeet Vice Chairman, James St. Goddard, an associate of Tyler’s and advocate for the grizzly and GOAL Tribal Coalition. “The government is trying to divert attention from the fact that its most recent report completely undermines its spin on delisting,” he adds.
According to the new US Geological Survey’s Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team (IGBST) report, 2015 was the most deadly year for grizzly bears in Greater Yellowstone since 1959, when human caused mortality data started to be compiled. Applying a government calculation that accounts for unreported bear deaths, and adding the known and probable deaths outside the Demographic Monitoring Area – the core of government-designated grizzly bear habitat – the death toll is 85 grizzlies, which equates to 11% of the estimated population. By the government’s own count, 25 adolescent and reproductive females are among the dead, which violates the Feds’ own limits that stipulate that no more than 18 females can be killed without causing a population decline.
The IGBST’s delayed report has been criticized for “major omissions” that critics say emphasize the politicization of grizzly bear delisting, a matter tribes have consistently exposed. “The long delay of the 2015 report has the appearance of being a political act, because parts of it could be construed to harm the delisting agenda,” observes Louisa Willcox, a thirty-year veteran in the fight to protect the grizzly.
“The Navajo Nation requests an immediate moratorium to be instituted and the Fish and Wildlife Service to immediately hold meaningful tribal consultation on grizzly bear management plans. The current grizzly bear management plans are largely crafted by the states, and tribes are being placed in a position where they have to accept and adopt these state agendas. Tribal nations must be included in this process, and their inclusion facilitated by the federal government, in the formulation of grizzly bear management plans, in order that those plans reflect the cultural imperatives of those tribes,” insist President Begaye and Vice President Nez.
“These great leaders of the Navajo Nation have perfectly articulated why the issue of grizzly delisting goes to the heart of tribal sovereignty,” concludes Bearshield.
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