I can hardly believe this to be a real initiative, if only because the politics of any real push for this would be just devastating to the Democratic Party. Nevertheless PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, has issued this news release.

As a side note, does anyone know about this controversy over the National Bison Range — the Indians versus the federal government? I read some headlines, but I didn’t get around to reading the story.

Update 11-9: This story from a Montana TV station gives a somewhat different view of the hearing. Proposed bill that would effect management of National Bison Range debated.

– – – – –

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
For Immediate Release: November 6, 2007
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

TRIBAL TAKEOVER OF NATIONAL PARKS AND REFUGES ON FAST TRACK — Legislation Would Set “Targets” for Transferring Jobs and Funds to Tribal Control

Washington, DC — This week, Congress will consider legislation that directs the Interior Department to turn over many national parks, wildlife refuges and other operations to tribal governments under virtually permanent funding agreements, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). National parks such as Redwood, Glacier, Voyageurs, Olympic and the Cape Cod National Seashore are among the 57 park units in 19 states listed as eligible for tribal operation, as are 19 refuges in 8 states, including all of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuges and the National Bison Range in Montana.

This Thursday, November 8th, HR 3994 by Representative David Boren (D-OK) is slated for hearing before the full House Natural Resources Committee, just nine days after it was introduced. The committee is chaired by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), the bill’s lead co-sponsor.

Under its terms, tribes could take over any Interior programs “that are of special geographical, historical, or cultural significance to the Indian tribe” and receive federal payments covering all direct and indirect costs. The Interior Secretary would “establish programmatic targets” ensuring that “a significant portion” of federal jobs and programs are included. Assumption would be mandatory wherever a tribe “has a federally reserved right” in local fish, wildlife, water or minerals. In all other cases, Interior could refuse a tribe only where it can show a legal prohibition or “a significant danger or risk to the public health.”

Once executed, the tribal funding agreements could not be terminated for non-performance, but could only be suspended for “gross mismanagement” or “imminent jeopardy” to resources or public health. In addition, tribes would have the right to be fully paid in advance. Any savings or economies would go entirely to the tribe and future payments to the tribe could not be reduced.

“This bill would be like having a herd of Halliburtons permanently embedded inside Interior’s budget,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that tribal profit margins would be guaranteed and a tribe could stop work entirely if costs exceeded agreement estimates, yet still keep the federal payments. “It is clear from this measure’s incredibly one-sided terms that lobbyists are still writing at least some of the legislation before Congress.”

HR 3994 stipulates that tribal operation of parks and refuges would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act or any other public reporting requirements. Moreover, no federal rules, guidance or policies would apply to programs under tribal funding agreements. In addition, tribes could move to waive any applicable regulation and could redesign programs or reallocate federal funds as they see fit.

“This bill does nothing to protect the wildlife and natural resources which are the very reasons we have these refuges and parks,” Ruch added. “In fact, these agreements would be cemented in place even when there is poor performance, rudeness to the public, sexual harassment, job discrimination or damage to the resource – so long as the damage is not ‘irreparable’ in the legalistic lingo of this proposal.”

Much of the bill, particularly the portions preventing termination of the funding agreements except in very limited, extreme circumstances, appears to be motivated by the experience at the National Bison Range. In December 2006, Interior abruptly cancelled a shared operation agreement with a local tribe citing abusive conduct and intimidation directed at U.S. Fish Wildlife Service employees, as well as substantial non-performance of many key tasks.

“This bill reads like a negotiating tactic to pressure Interior to renew the Bison Range funding deal,” Ruch concluded, noting that a review of the events at Bison Range by the Interior Office of Inspector General is reportedly ready to be released. “Congress should take a very hard look at what happened on the National Bison Range before signing away scores of our most treasured public lands in perpetuity.”


Read summary of some surprising provisions within HR 3994

View the full text of HR 3994

Look at the list of eligible national parks for tribal operation

Look at the list of eligible national wildlife refuges

Revisit problems leading to termination of the National Bison Range tribal funding agreement

See the House Natural Resources Committee hearing notice

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

20 Responses to Tribal Takeover Of National Parks And Refuges said by PEER to be on a Fast Track

  1. steve c says:

    What does this mean for our national parks? Can they do anything they see fit? Does this scrap all rules and protections that national park status carries?

  2. What’s up with Nick ??
    He is one of the reps that have tried to protect the yellowstone bison.
    I’m speechless.

  3. Regarding the last two comments, I think there has to be less here than meets the eye.

    It doesn’t make sense politically, given Rahill’s record, and Democrat’s effort to make a comeback in the West. So I’m waiting for other groups to weigh in on what is really going on.

    Google news search shows little so far.

  4. Mack P. Bray says:

    HEY. I was going to go to bed early tonight. Now I can’t, because this story will give me nightmares…!

  5. Eileen McLaughlin says:

    I have about four years of information about the situation at the National Bison Range and will be happy to help you catch up. The issue is still not resolved. Contact me.

    As far as H.R. 3994 is concerned, its text does indeed appear to set up situations as PEER describes. It is complex and 51 pages long. I have read it several times this week myself. All parties, other than those who wrote it, are just now trying to sort through the legal complexities. It oddly rearranges political partnerships. It is sponsored by three Democrats including Rahall who rushed it into a hearing today, just 10 days after introduction. Jim Cason, representing the DOI at the hearing, stated flatly that the DOI opposes the bill as written. His comments are posted on the Natural Resources Commitee website. You may know that Cason has often drawn the ire of conservationists. At this early stage at least, it appears that he, the Office of the Secretary and the conservationists are lining up on the same side.

  6. Maybe this is a strategy or a distraction being used to settle an arguement or situation that may or may not be related to HR3994. hmmmm…

  7. Vicki says:

    I would hope this might help conservation efforts. But I wonder, how will this be helpful? I know many Native Americans see conservation as “a way of life.” But, just wanting to conserve our environment won’t give anyone the education to do that. It is not a simple thing. Intention does not end with success in all things. We can’t just empower a certain population, and then wash our hands. Like it or not, we are all intitled to our parks and refuges. It isn’t just the Native Americans (Sorry PaPa, don’t roll over in your grave….) who have an interest here. Every legal citizen of this country pays to own and to protect all things “PUBLIC”. Does this measure have any policing written into it? It should.
    To me, this is not far removed from giving ranchers an interest in the monies raised by hunting and fishing, just because they graze cattle on the public lands where people fish or hunt. I hope this is truly about conservation, and not just a bunch of political mumbo jumbo. If we are going to give contrl of any of our nature resources to ANY group, we should make damn sure they know how to manage them, business wise, scientifically, and socially. But I disagree that jobs should be given out by a specific racial sector. This isn’t the fifties. This has political and social “ripple effect” written all over it.
    I will wait and see, I too believe there is more than meets the eye here.

  8. kim kaiser says:

    can u see a big ugly casino up at logans pass,,or inside the old growth at redwood?? bus loads of gamblers, constipating the parks,, and like antelope, tourist are trucked out to delicate arch for a 45 minute photosession,,,,non casino reservations are usually in disrepair, the ones that arent would be the casino guided units.. so this is the democrats way of reversing the bush policies?? ive said it before, be careful what you ask for,

  9. Eve Wills says:

    I read this bill, and don’t see a word in it about the tribes taking over National Parks. In fact, if you actually read it, it specifically says lands with non-Indian interests are exempted. The way I understand it, it only applies to BIA lands. Of course I don’t fully comprehend Legalese, but the story by PEER seems pretty overblown to me. Also, the Representative’s name is Dan Boren, not David Boren.

  10. Mike Lommler says:

    By turning over to tribal management, I imagine it means that the parks would be managed by the tribes (if they meet certain criteria) in accordance with the NPS organic act and the park organic acts. I’ve yet to read the bill yet, so we’ll see. But this probably isn’t as bad an idea as some people are making it out to be. In the case of the National Bison Range, the USFWS has been saying that the CSKT did a terrible job, others have said that the USFWS set up the tribe to fail.

  11. Regardless, USFWS employees should not have been “greeted” with guns and threats.

  12. Eileen McLaughlin says:

    The Associated Press provides another view of the story today, including the National Bison Range. You can find it at http://www.helenair.com/articles/2007/11/09/ap-state-mt/d8spr6k00.txt.

    The KPAX story and Rahall quote suffer from superficiality, given the complexity of the bill proposed and reference (or lack of it) to existing law.

    The bill uses “inherently federal” as one of the few means to deny an agreement. Under the definitions section, it defines inherently federal as “any Federal function that cannot be legally delegated to an Indian tribe.” Where is law that states that any particular function in a Refuge, Park or BLM land cannot be delegated to an Indian tribe? To my knowledge, a non-lawyer, it is not. That omission and the bill’s definition do make the inherently federal assessment subjective and very hard to prove.

    Conflicting laws and law omissions are key to understanding many problems at the NBR. Organic law governing our Refuge System requires the USFWS to ensure that certain things happen. Existing self-goverance laws set a different expectation for the tribes, who believe “self-governance” means they are free to make the decisions on how to perform the functions involved.

    Toward that issue, the new bill specifies that the “tribe shall not be subject to any agency circular, policy, manual, guidance or rule adopted by the Department” and it specifically takes decision-making authority away from the agency i.e. away from the career professionals whose output is designed to meet the requirements of organic federal law. From a conservation standpoint, that means that tribes do not have to use the standards hammered out over decades by parks or refuges, as may apply under the endangered species act or other law, and have survived the test of time and NEPA. Further, as federal law is system-wide and these agreements are localized, an impact will be to splinter decision-making into standalone and local, tribal organizations.

    Regarding which federal lands are involved, the bill requires the DOI, “as determined by the Indian tribe,” to authorize “…all programs carried out by the Secretary outside the Bureau of Indian Affairs, without regard to agency or office within within which the function is performed,…” That means all functions of the USFWS (including the Refuges), Parks, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and so forth.

    It is important to remember that agreements under self-goverance are specifically defined as government-to-government, as stated in this bill and predecssor law. Is it acceptable to so broadly transfer function decisions regarding public lands and resources to another government?

    Why would it be appropriate for the Secretary to be required to negotiate these agreements, on Indian tribe request, whenever Indians are “primary or significant beneficiaries,” without also allowing that the Secretary has the right to deny the agreement when other groups’ beneficiary rights may thus be impacted? We are talking about the rights and benefits of all other Americans.

    Jim Cason pointed out that much of the bill seems to be based on the Title V model in federal indian law that defines self-governance agreements for indian health care. Now, it is broadly obvious that indians are the primary and significant beneficiaries of indian health care agreements. It also true that its beneficiaries can then “complain” about program inadequacies to their own government. For instance, the beneficiaries can vote their own leaders in or out for non-performance.

    While the beneficiary argument is narrowly applicable to Indians for program contracts on our public lands and resources, the sovereign nature of the status of tribes, (and as designed in this bill) makes redress by all non-Indian beneficiaries extraordinary.

    This is an exceptionally complex and far-reaching bill that demands intensive review and revision. Better yet, it should be scrapped and replaced by balanced legislation.

  13. mikarooni says:

    I don’t like this idea at all. Republicans have a real bad habit of seeking out suckers to act as their proxy puppets and too many of us are such eager wannabes that we’ll dance to their foul tune just to have an opportunity to look big. When it comes to preserving or conserving, I prefer dumb, inefficient, plodding, too dull to be corrupt, bureaucrats over anyone who seems eager to “do something” or declare their rights. “Doing something” and declaring rights to stuff is what caused most of the problems in the first place.

  14. JB says:

    I *love* how we use the word “tribes,” with the expectation that all Native American people’s are the same. Each tribe you “turn over” a park to will want to manage the park in a different manner. No standardization. No NP pass. No NEPA, no ESA consultations. My God, can you imagine if Glacier NP was managed like the Navajo manage Antelope or Monument Valley? That’ll be $38 for a ride in the back of a 1980s era truck and 2 hours in a canyon packed with photographers.

    I can’t think of a worse idea for how to manage our National treasures….well, I guess we could turn them over to the oil and mining industry?

    Damn it! I shouldn’t have to waste my Saturday morning composing letters to the Democrats [the Democrats!!] to tell them this is a bad idea! Sheesh!

  15. Remember all the money bush promised the parks? The parks didn’t get the much needed funds because of the war. Yellowstone alone is required to fire 60 rangers over the course of 3 years. If the tribes take over, the parks will still not get the money that is needed for repairs and upkeep. Also, is this a ploy to put the blame on the tribes instead of who is really responsible, for the state of disrepair. If passed there is no recourse for mismanagement as the tribes are solely responsible and management cannot be revoked and put back into the hands of the public. Failure is gauranteed and that may be the point. HR3994 in effect permanently “passes the buck” to the indians.

  16. Susan Reneau says:

    The congressmen introducing this legislation are Democrats but Republicans, especially Rep. Don Young of Alaska, are supporting HB 3994, too. The Federal Register, shopping book for anyone wishing to apply for contracts with the federal government, lists 57 national parks and dozens of national wildlife refuges as eligible for non-competitve work and operational budget contracts.

    All of the national wildlife refuges in Alaska, including Arctic National Wildlife Refug are on the “hit” list under the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act. If HB 3994 is passed into law, the Indian Self Determination and Education Assistance Act would be strengthened in favor of the Indian governments. Everything PEER said is correct.

    The refuges of Alaska represent 80% of all the land that is included in the National Wildlife Refuge System. Additionally, national wildlife refuges in Montana, Washington state, Idaho, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are listed. Fish hatcheries are also listed.

    HB 3994 would expand the reach of federal recognized and self-governance Indian tribes to all national parks, all national wildlife refuges and all land systems under the U.S. Dept. of Interior. National forests under the Dept. of Agriculture are not included yet but realistically, they could be included. The bill expands the Indian Self Determination Act reach to include all non-Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) programs.

    As for national parks, the list currently includes the following:
    13 in Alaska – only Denali NP is off the list . . . so far
    8 in Arizona including Sagua NP
    4 in California, including Redwood NP
    2 in Kansas
    3 in Massachusets, including Cape Cod and Boston Harbor
    2 in Minnesota
    2 in Montana, including Glacier NP
    5 in New Mexico, including Carlsbad Caverns NP
    2 in Ohio
    4 in Texas
    4 in Washington, including Olympic, San Juan Island and Mt. Rainier National Parks
    1 each in AR, ID, IA, KS, NV, NY, OK and OR

    This totals 57 so far but each year the Federal Register is published, more national parks and monuments are listed.

    It is urgent that if you care about the future of national parks and national wildlife refuges, not to mention every other federal public land system.

    The Indian tribe that was given half the operational budge and half the “inherently federal” tasks and positions at the National Bison Range under an Annual Funding Agreement negotiated under the Indian Self Determination Act did such a poor job that the Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from the NBR in December 2006. It is this tribe that is pushing for passage of HB 3994 and their chief lobbyist and lawyers wrote the legislation. The Inspector General of the DOI has finished a complete investigation and reports are that the Indian tribe in question did as poor a job as the FWS said they did. The IG has not released the report yet but draft versions of it are floating around DOI and people at DOI have spoken to me about the report.

    Please feel free to call or e-mail me if you have further questions. Thank you for discussing this vital issue.

  17. Any new info on this ?? I wonder if the Tribes even know about this. I read an article today by a Winnebago Native American who recieves a monthly newsletter from her tribe and reads various other publications by NA’s on a weekly basis. Many months ago she discovered that GW Bush had proclaimed November ” National Native American Indian Heritage Month” , on Nov. 1 , 2002. She asked many of her NA friends who are teachers, nurses,business owners etc., and they new nothing about it. They concluded, “that it was one of the governments best kept secrets”, she wrote.

    I thought that to be very interesting. Even more so that it seems there is no new info about this. A fellow artist I know who is 1/2 Native American and well connected with a Chief of a large Northwest Tribe was unaware.

    If anyone finds more info in addition to the above article, please share. Thanks

  18. Marc says:

    As a tribal natural resource director for a western tribe, the idea of this bill scares me. Tribes can not take care of their own natural resources on indian reservations. Not to mention the high amount of corruption in tribal government having an impact. Tribes can not be sued so there is no incentive to promote the safety and well being of general visitors.

  19. Susan Reneau says:

    No agreement has occured regarding the National Bison Range, which is the kingpin agreemet to be applied to at least 57 national parks and all the national wildlife refuges in Alaska that represents more than 80% of all the land of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The deadline set by Lyle Laverty of the DOI was March 28 but he said no agreement has been signed yet as of April 3, 2008. Pressure from peole who support the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System need to continue to send e-mails and faxes to DOI’s Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty at 202-208-5367 (phone), 202-208-4684 (fax) and e-mail at lyle_laverty@ios.doi.gov. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dale Hall can be reached at 202-208-6965 and e-mail dale_hall@fws.gov. DOI claims they don’t hear from anyone so send your comments to Laverty to Hall so FWS has a record of what is sent.

    The National Bison Range means Congress, especially Rep. Don Young of Alaska, and others in Congress, will get their hands of OIL. Yep, that’s what some of this is all about.

    Call or e-mail me if you have questions at bluemountain@monana.com or 406-251-5116.

    Susan Campbell Reneau

  20. dbaileyhill says:

    Susan thank you for the update!


November 2007


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey