What will happen to the bison at the National Bison Range?
The draft legislation, as revised following the public comment period, would continue to require that the land be managed for bison conservation purposes, as well as other wildlife and natural resource conservation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (Tribes) would be the steward of the bison herd, which descends from animals that Tribal members had brought back to the Flathead Indian Reservation from east of the Continental Divide at a time when plains bison were on the verge of extinction. See sections 4(a)(1) and 4(a)(2) of the revised draft legislation.
Will I still be able to visit the Bison Range?
Yes. The revised draft legislation would require that the Tribes continue public access and visitation at the Bison Range. See sections 3(b)(3) and 4(a)(2)(C) of the revised draft legislation.
Will the land remain in federal ownership?
Yes. The land would continue to be owned by the federal government. The only difference would be that, instead of being owned by the United States as part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, it would now be owned by the U.S. in trust for the Tribes – just as it had been from the date of the 1855 Hellgate Treaty until 1908 when it was acquired by the federal government for the Bison Range. The land would not be removed from federal ownership but, under trust principles, the Tribes would be the beneficial owners. See sections 4(a) and 3(b)(4) of the revised draft legislation.
What is federal trust ownership of Indian land?
The federal government acts as a trustee for Indian tribes, including with respect to ownership of tribal lands. The title to most property on Indian reservations that is referred to as Indian-owned or tribally-owned is actually owned by the United States in trust for such tribe. The tribe, as the beneficial owner, enjoys the rights and privileges of ownership, but the tribe cannot dispose of, or otherwise convey, the land without approval by the United States.
Would this be a precedent for other land transfers?
No. The revised draft legislation contains language explicitly barring its interpretation as a precedent for any other situation regarding federal property or facilities. The language specifically recognizes the distinct facts, history and circumstances involved with the Bison Range land, bison herd, and the Tribes. See section 4(j) of the revised draft legislation.