The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) today announced publication of the draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for a proposed Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) that would allow the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) to manage and implement the biological, maintenance, public use, and fire management programs on the National Bison Range Complex (refuge complex).
The EA addresses those units located within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation; specifically the National Bison Range, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges, and nine waterfowl production areas. All of these units are within Lake and Sanders counties in Montana.
The CSKT requested negotiations for an AFA in November 2010 under the authority of the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act, as amended. The Service then developed the draft AFA to explore a more full partnership agreement with CSKT that would allow the Tribes to take part in the refuge programs that are of special geographic, historical, or cultural significance.
Now, the Service has prepared the EA to evaluate the environmental consequences of the proposed agreement, in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act. In addition to this proposed agreement, the Service also developed and analyzed four other AFA alternatives for the public’s consideration and comment. Each AFA alternative would allow CSKT to manage or assist with programs, services, functions, and activities on the refuge complex to various degrees for a term of five years.
Comments on the draft EA from members of the public will be welcomed by the Service during a 30-day public review period.
“We always think that it’s important to involve stakeholders in the process of deciding how to best manage our shared natural resources, in this case the locally- and nationally-known National Bison Range,” said Will Meeks, Mountain-Prairie Region assistant regional director for Refuges. “Both citizens and Tribal members with an opinion on how the National Bison Range will be managed are invited to comment on the draft environmental assessment during the thirty-day comment period.”
Why did the Service prepare the draft Environmental Assessment (EA)?
The Service prepared the draft EA to evaluate the draft Annual Funding Agreement (AFA) with the CSKT developed by the Service under the Self-Governance Act. As part of the EA process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Service developed and analyzed four alternatives (including no action) to the draft AFA, which is the proposed action in this EA. Each AFA alternative would allow CSKT to manage or assist with programs, services, functions, and activities on the refuge complex to various degrees for a term of five years.
Why is the draft AFA considered appropriate for the Service to consider as a management option for the National Bison Range complex?
The AFA was developed by the Service to fulfill its desire to enter into an expanded partnership agreement with the CSKT under the authority of the Tribal Self-Governance Act of 1994 (Self-Governance Act) that would allow the Tribes to take part in the refuge programs that are of special geographic, historical, or cultural significance. An AFA is needed to carry out the Tribe’s desire for tribal involvement in activities on the refuge complex under the Self-Governance Act.
Why is the Service considering adoption of the AFA?
Pursuant to its Tribal-trust responsibilities, the Service would like to forge a productive and long-term partnership with the CSKT at the National Bison Range Complex (refuge complex) in Montana that would allow the Tribes to take part in refuge programs that are of special geographic, historical, or cultural significance.
What is an Environmental Assessment?
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 sets up procedural requirements for all Federal Government agencies to analyze the environmental impacts of a Federal action. NEPA’s procedural requirements apply to all Federal agencies in the executive branch.
An EA is a concise public document, prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, that briefly discusses the purpose and need for an action and alternatives to such action and that provides sufficient evidence and analysis of effects to determine whether to prepare an environmental impact statement or finding of no significant impact (40 CFR 1508.9).
What types of impacts were studied in the EA?
The EA examined a number of environmental and social impacts, including the following:
Physical Environment including soils, climate, and air quality
Biological Resources including habitat management, habitat resources, and wildlife management.
Visitor Services including wildlife observation and photography, interpretation, environmental education, and other uses
Refuge Operations including the number and type of staff positions proposed.
Who prepared the CCP and EA?
A team composed of Service personnel from both the refuge complex and the regional office. In addition, the Service hired a contractor to assist with the environmental analysis.
Who makes the decision on whether to proceed with the AFA?
The Regional Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region of the Service will decide whether to proceed with an AFA with the Tribes and, if so, to what degree.
What will happen if the decision is made to proceed with the AFA?
If the Regional Director decides to proceed with an AFA, we are required to send the AFA to Congress for a 90-day review and comment period. If approved by Congress, we will immediately begin working with CSKT to begin implementing the selected AFA agreement.
Where is the National Bison Range located?
Located in northwestern Montana, most of the refuge complex is located within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation, a 1.3 million acre-area established in 1855 through the Treaty of Hellgate with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.