Colville Business Council chair Michael Marchand signs the symbolic treaty vowing support for the protection of Yellowstone grizzly bears following a concensus vote in Colville Business Council Chambers, Oct. 31.

Colville tribe and nearly 120 others had signed Piikanni Nation agreement, which called for protection of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

WASHINGTON D.C. – When Colville Business Council chair Michael Marchand signed onto the Piikani Agreement in November, pledging the tribes’ support for grizzly bears and the desire to see the bears remain protected by federal law, the Colville tribes were approximately the 50th of nearly 120 tribes from both sides of the U.S./Canadian border to pledge their support.

At the time, Rain Bear Stands Last, Chief of Staff to Piikani Nation Chief Stan Grier, visited the CBC Chambers and talked with the tribal leadership about a proposition by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the grizzly bear from the Federal List of Endangered and Threated Wildlife.

Marchand’s signature followed a unanimous consensus vote in CBC Chambers following a discussion that touched on tribal sovereignty, traditional beliefs and federal consultation with tribes.

But last week, U.S. Department of Interior secretary Ryan Zinke announced that the Yellowstone population of grizzlies ‘has been recovered to a point where federal protections can be removed and overall management can be returned to the states and tribes,’ according to an Interior department release.

With the announcement, Zinke announced the publication of a 515-page notice in the Federal Register. The rule change will take affect after a 30-day publication period.

The change will affect only the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is made up of land in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, and the Interior release announces grizzlies outside of that area will remain under the ESA with continued protection.

The notice further notes, “The participating states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming and Federal agencies have adopted the necessary post-delisting plans and regulations, which adequately ensure that the GYE population of grizzly bears remains recovered.”

In November, Colville elder Soy Redthunder warned the tribal council of the danger of allowing states management: “We know what happens when we let states make the plans for us,” said Redthunder.

Much of the fear is states have been given the ability to create hunting seasons for the animal.

“These people want to come in and kill these sacred beings for fun,” said Bear Stands Last in November. “They call it sport. I call football a sport. They call killing management, and I ask them, ‘How do you manage the sacred?’”

Bear Stands Last also warned in November that delisting the animals would open the area around Yellowstone for corporate development, stating a USFW’s delisting rule published in the federal registry earlier in the year identified 28 mining claims with operating plans in the area.

And despite tribal concerns about consultation – and the 120 tribes who signed the Piikani Agreement – USFW maintains consultation was made.

The new rule notice states the USFW conducted ‘ten tribal consultations’ and “We considered issues of cultural, spiritual, and ecological importance that Tribes raised and we are sensitive to those concerns. However, the Act requires the Service to make decisions based on the biological status of the species as informed solely by the best scientific and commercial data available. That said, once this action becomes effective, Tribes will have the right to manage grizzly bears on their Tribal lands in accordance with their spiritual, cultural, and historic traditions.”

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