“When I got them, they were fat and sassy,” Hakes says. “That story that the tribes were not feeding them was B.S.”
Hakes and another longtime volunteer at the annual bison roundup, Polson architect Paul Bishop, have come forward the week after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abruptly ended its agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes for shared management of the National Bison Range.
Neither Hakes nor Bishop are tribal members, but they don’t think CSKT was given a fair shake at the refuge.
“I quite frankly don’t give a damn who runs the Bison Range, but if Fish and Wildlife is going to take it over for a reason, let’s let it be the truth,” Hakes says. “I could bitch about the tribes over other things and spend a couple of hours. But when it comes to the Bison Range, there’s been no neglect, and the proof is in the animal.”
Bishop says he feels National Bison Range project manager Steve Kallin “has purposefully created an environment of distrust, animosity and misinformation. The FWS, under his direction, has sought to try the tribes in the court of public opinion, while doing everything in their power to sabotage the co-management relationship behind the scenes.”
Kallin was not available for comment Thursday, but deputy project leader Bill West vigorously defended him.
“He’s one of the finest humans, and administrators, I’ve ever seen,” West says of Kallin. “In 26 years, I’ve never worked for anyone more honorable. I’d follow Steve Kallin anywhere.”
Bishop, meantime, called for Kallin to be reassigned and another administrator to be brought in “who can oversee a fair and balanced assessment of the tribes’ capabilities.”
Bishop says that while his exposure to the Bison Range is limited to two to three days a year when he volunteers at the roundup, he thinks it provides a good window into the work the tribes have done there since the co-management plan went into effect in the fall of 2005.
“I have, from the beginning, felt that the way FWS conducted the roundup had serious problems,” Bishop wrote in a letter published Thursday in the weekly Valley Journal. “It was always heavy on the ‘cowboy’ and it seemed the welfare of the bison extended only to their most basic physical needs.”
Bishop, whose family has volunteered at the roundup for more than 20 years and who himself has been involved for more than 10, says that over time the bison became more savvy to the methods of FWS riders.
“The only FWS response was to run the animals harder, getting them even more stressed and worn out,” Bishop says. “The common method, once all the ‘easy’ animals had been chased in by riders, was to retire the horses and bring out a FWS Jeep. The driver would then chase the remaining stubborn bison, horn blaring, until they submitted.”
It sometimes involved ramming the bison with the front bumper, Bishop says, and in 2004 – the last year FWS had sole control of the roundup – an adult bison was rammed from behind, its leg was broken, and it had to be killed.
But when the tribes came on board, that changed, Bishop says.
“The tribes’ first roundup was a huge success, which was completed in two days with time to spare,” Bishops says.
“I know it sounds odd, but I believe the animals noticed a difference, too,” he says. “They were clearly much calmer and less stressed. The riders did a fantastic job of handling the animals with care and everyone else followed suit. The bison were processed through with a level of compassion and patience that was definitely lacking in the old FWS cowboy days.”
“I am not sure why he won’t tell you this,” Bishop says he told the roundup staff after Kallin left, “but that was the best roundup in the last 10 years, maybe ever.”
West says the Fish and Wildlife Service has always praised the tribes’ work at the annual roundup, and it was other areas over the course of the past year where work was done less than satisfactorily or not performed – much of which was documented in a critical (and controversial) performance report.
“The big elephant on the table that never gets talked about is that the tribes want the land back,” West says. “But whether the tribes can run a national wildlife refuge the right way is the only thing on the negotiating table.”
He credited FWS biologist Lee Jones with discontinuing use of a Jeep to herd bison into corrals, as well as developing the system that allows roundup workers to pass a wand over implanted computer chips in the scale area to get information on each animal, without driving them into a squeeze chute.
And, he says, she’s also responsible for the use of hydraulic squeeze chutes at the roundup that are easier on the animals that are directed there than the old chutes were.
“That’s who Lee Jones is,” West says. “The best thing to happen to bison here in a while. Paul gives credit to the tribes for things that had more to do with Lee.”
But Bishop says the biologist was “particularly agitated” at the roundup.
“She snapped at several tribal staff members and I heard her say several times, ‘That’s not my job’ or ‘Talk to the tribes,’ ” Bishop says. “I don’t want to over-dramatize the events, but I do need to clearly stress that the level of condescending and insulting behavior by several FWS staff toward the tribal staff was very obvious.”
West says the tribes made it clear from the beginning that “they wanted credit for the jobs they did, and didn’t want us to do their jobs.” The tribes, he adds, do deserve credit in other areas at the roundup.
“They added a new dimension, showing how if you’re patient with the most stubborn critters, you can actually walk them into the corrals,” West says. “We tried their method, and it took an hour, but it worked. It was a positive thing that had never been tried before.”
Hakes says he employs similar tactics on his ranch, using what he calls “Judas cows” to move the bison where he needs to.
“I’ve got three pet cows I feed out of a bucket, and I’ll use them to lead in the other buffalo,” Hakes says. “Buffalo lead better than they drive.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service, he says, is simply protecting its turf from the tribes, who had been in negotiations with the Department of Interior to take over full control of management at the Bison Range when the plug was pulled on the Annual Funding Agreement that allowed for the co-management plan.
“There’s no reason (CSKT) can’t run it as good as anybody else,” Hakes says. “I realize I’m endangering my working relationship with the Bison Range, but fair is fair.”
“To me, they can run it better,” Bishop says. “Just the last two years at the roundup, how things have changed, proves that. If the tribes are as bad as the Fish and Wildlife Service says they are, why don’t they stand back and let them fail on their own?”
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 2/23/16