MISSOULA, Mont. — New legislation from U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.) affirms the water rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and will restore ancestral lands to tribal control through the transfer of the National Bison Range to federal trust status for the Tribes. The bill, developed in collaboration with the Tribes, the state of Montana and many other parties ensures that the Tribes will manage the Bison Range for bison and wildlife conservation.
“Senator Daines deserves great credit for crafting this important legislation that rights historic wrongs. The National Wildlife Federation appreciates his collaborative approach and recognition of ancestral land and water rights of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes,” said Tom France, Regional Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation. “Senator Daines’ legislation affirms the agreement that was carefully negotiated among parties, improves it in certain areas, and equitably resolves long running disputes.”
The federal government took lands from the Salish and Kootenai without their consent to establish the Bison Range over a century ago, ignoring efforts of the Salish and Kootenai to help save buffalo from extinction in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Buffalo have enormous historical and cultural importance on the reservation and to the tribes.
The National Wildlife Federation has also supported the water rights compact developed over years of negotiation between the state of Montana and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. There has been give and take throughout this long process and the bill introduced by Senator Daines fairly resolve the claims of both the Tribes and other water users. The Daines bill will bring both certainty and better management to water use both on and off the reservation, and offers tremendous benefits for ecological restoration of valuable fish and wildlife habitat.
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