Interior Releases New Bison Management Report Reaffirming Tribal Commitment

 The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a plan to preserve and restore bison populations to the wild.
The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a plan to preserve and restore bison populations to the wild.


The Department of the Interior has reaffirmed its commitment to restore bison to “appropriate and well-managed levels on public and tribal lands” by working with states, tribes and other partners.

“The Interior Department has more than a century-long legacy of conserving the North American bison, and we will continue to pursue the ecological and cultural restoration of the species on behalf of the American public and American Indian tribes who have a special connection to this iconic animal,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell in a June 30 statement announcing the release of a report, DOI Bison Report: Looking Forward, which outlines plans to work with tribes, states, landowners, conservation groups, commercial bison producers and agricultural interests to restore the bison population to a “proper ecological and cultural role on appropriate landscapes within its historical range,” the DOI statement said.

“This report reaffirms our commitment to work with many partners to ensure healthy, ranging bison contribute not only to the conservation of the species, but also to sustainable local and regional economies and communities,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Rachel Jacobson in the statement.

A key component of the report addresses recent developments regarding brucellosis quarantine that could allow for the relocation of Yellowstone bison outside the Greater outside the Greater Yellowstone Area, if they are quarantined and determined to be brucellosis-free. A new protocol developed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and introduced in February strongly suggests that this is indeed possible.

“The results of this study indicate that under the right conditions, there is an opportunity to produce live brucellosis-free bison from even a herd with a large number of infected animals like the one in Yellowstone National Park,” said Dr. Jack Rhyan, APHIS Veterinary Officer, in a WCS statement in February. “Additionally, this study was a great example of the benefits to be gained from several agencies pooling resources and expertise to research the critical issue of brucellosis in wildlife.”

RELATED: Yellowstone Bison Slaughter Over, Controversy Remains

The new information “raises the potential that for the first time in over a half century, Yellowstone bison could once again contribute to the broader conservation of the species beyond the Greater Yellowstone Area without spreading brucellosis,” the DOI said in its statement. “When evaluating whether to implement a brucellosis quarantine program in the future, Interior will follow all necessary processes to ensure full involvement by states, tribes, and the public.”

As such, the department said it was unwaveringly committed to working with tribes to restore bison on public and tribal lands “because of its cultural, religious, nutritional, and economic importance to many tribes.”

The American buffalo, which numbered an estimated 40 million when Europeans first arrived on Turtle Island, had been reduced to 25 by the late 19th century, Interior noted. Since then many parties have worked hard to bring them back from the brink of extinction and reintroduce them to tribal lands.

“Interior lands now support 17 bison herds in 12 states for a total of approximately 10,000 bison over 4.6 million acres of Interior and adjacent lands, accounting for one third of all bison managed for conservation in North America,” the department said.



Interior Announces First Transfer to Cobell Education Fund for Native Students

Christina RoseJazmine Good Iron (Standing Rock), left, and Adonica Little (Ogalala), right, sit in front of Oglala Lakota College in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Christina Rose
Jazmine Good Iron (Standing Rock), left, and Adonica Little (Ogalala), right, sit in front of Oglala Lakota College in Rapid City, South Dakota.


Vincent Schilling, ICTMN


On April 2 the Department of the Interior announced that quarterly transfers of nearly $580,000 are set to begin this week to the American Indian College Fund. The Cobell Education Fund is part of the historic Cobell Settlement fund of 2012, which will provide financial assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native students wishing to pursue post-secondary education and training.

“The Scholarship Fund is an important tool to help students across Indian country pursue higher education opportunities imperative to their success in the workplace and to the creation of the next generation of Indian leaders,” said Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins in a press release. Tompkins helped negotiate the Cobell Settlement on behalf of the Department of the Interior.

“While there was much debate in the settlement negotiations, there was no debate among the parties that we must do something to support Indian students in their aspirations and dreams,” she said.

According to the Interior, the scholarship fund is financed in part by the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations. The program was created by the Cobell Settlement, which provided copy.9 billion to purchase fractionated interests in trust or restricted land from willing landowners. As an incentive to participate in the land consolidation program, a percentage of each purchase is donated to the Cobell Education Scholarship Fund.

The American Indian College Fund in Denver, Colorado will be in charge of administering the scholarship fund monies to eligible students interested in enrolling or currently enrolled in tribal colleges, technical and vocational programs and undergraduate and graduate programs.

Eligible students must be enrolled in an accredited, non-profit, U.S. institution that awards graduating students either bachelor’s degrees or career and technical certificates, or students that are pursuing post-baccalaureate graduate or professional degree as a full-time degree-seeking student at an accredited institution in the U.S. Online degrees are covered as long as they meet the above requirements.

In accordance with the programs guidelines, 20 percent of the funds will be allocated to support graduate students through the American Indian Graduate Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

According to Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, the organization is currently only able to provide scholarships to 75 percent of its current applicants, so the disbursement is a welcomed asset.

“We are thrilled to be able to remember and implement the vision of Elouise Cobell so that the Cobell Scholarship Fund can lift up tribal students and their families, and also know that we have a long way to go,” she told Indian Country Today Media Network.

“Current U.S. Department of Education data shows that less than 13 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives earn a college degree compared to 28 percent of other racial groups,” she continued. “No doubt this is due to economic disparity, especially in reservation communities, as well as education disparity. We believe these scholarships will be a good start in providing Native people with a post-secondary education, which we see as the solution to ending poverty and its problems.

“We know there are many tribal students who have yet to access available scholarships so the need for scholarships will continue to rise.”

Crazy Bull also said that though the scholarships will help, the $580,000 is not a guaranteed amount per quarter as the Department of the Interior will contribute up to $60 million over the course of the Land Buy-Back Program. “Payments may vary each quarter depending on land sales and the value of those lands sold,” she said.


Currently the College Fund is still working to meet its goal of 60 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives having earned a higher education by 2025 and will still relentlessly continue to pursue fundraising goals.

“If we were to fully fund tribal college students, 20,000 students at an average cost of copy6,000 a year, we would need $32 million a year for scholarships,” Crazy Bull said. “There are at least another 160,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students attending college across the U.S. The vast majority of them have great need for financial support.

“Tribal people have a right to access education in whatever manner works for them and wherever they choose to go to school.”

“While the Cobell Scholarship Fund has criteria like all scholarships generally do, the funds will make a difference with access and we hope that the funds can serve as a resource for students to stay in school.  Our student persistence and graduation rates are a focus of tribal educators and we know one of the most significant barriers is adequate financial support,” Crazy Bull said.

Students interested in applying for the American Indian College Fund Scholarships should visit the College Fund website.




Gabe Galanda: More problems in DOI’s land buy-back plan

Consider the highlights–or lowlights–of Interior’s latest “plan” for Indian land “buy back.”


First, “the program will exclude reservations east of the Mississippi and in Alaska” according to Interior’s appraisers. In addition, Western states with high concentrations of Indian lands, most notably California, are not on Interior’s priority list for federal buy back funding.

Second, according to Interior’s latest plan, “once fair market value determinations have been made, the Department will mail offer packages to individuals with ownership interests in those valued tracts and seek to acquire those interests that individuals are willing to sell.”

In other words, Interior expresses no intention of consulting in person with individual Indian landowners to ensure they understand the proposed purchase and sale transaction. That despite a clear ruling in Cobell v. Norton, 225 F.R.D. 41, 45 (D.D.C. 2004) that such sales “require communication between individual Indian trust-land owners and agents of Interior.” Mass mailings are simply not the communication or consultation that is required to cause Indians to fully understand the consequences of signing boilerplate papers that will cause them to cede their ancestral lands.


Get the Story:
Gabe Galanda: Interior’s Indian Land Buy-Back Plan: More Sketchy By the Day (Galanda Broadman 11/11)

Related Stories:
Appraisal Foundation reviews Cobell land consolidation plans (11/8)

Interior Expands Land Buy-Back Process Across Indian Country

Source: Department of the Interior

In Response to Tribal Consultation & Feedback, Buy-Back Program Announces Solicitation for Cooperative Agreement Applications from Tribes

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of President Obama’s commitment to help strengthen Indian communities, and following nation-to-nation consultations with tribal leaders, the Department of the Interior is expanding the implementation strategy for the Land Buy-Back Program for Tribal Nations (Buy-Back Program).

The move to engage a significant amount of tribal governments expands on the Department’s initial plan to launch pilot efforts with less than a dozen tribes, allows for a greater amount of engagement across Indian Country, and provides more flexibility and transparency for tribal governments. The cooperative agreements would make funds available to tribal governments to implement key aspects of the Buy-Back Program, such as owner outreach and education. Tribes have the opportunity to actively participate in the process, including identifying acquisition priorities, which will improve the program’s effectiveness and efficiency while minimizing administrative costs.

“This is a major step forward toward strengthening tribal sovereignty by supporting consolidation of tribal homelands,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “We are moving quickly to establish individualized cooperative agreements, which address the specific needs of each tribe and provide resources for tribal communities to implement the program. Although the task ahead is challenging, we have been given a historic opportunity to work together with Indian Country to meet this challenge.”

The Buy-Back Program was created to implement the land consolidation component of the Cobell Settlement. The Settlement provided for a $1.9 billion Trust Land Consolidation Fund (Fund) to consolidate fractional trust or restricted land interests across Indian Country. The Buy- Back Program allows interested individual owners to receive payments for voluntarily selling their land. All lands sold will immediately be held in trust for the tribe with jurisdiction.

Interior holds about 56 million acres in trust for American Indians. More than 10 million acres are held for individual American Indians and nearly 46 million acres are held for Indian tribes. The Department holds this land in more than 200,000 tracts, of which nearly 94,000 – on about 150 reservations – contain fractional ownership interests available for purchase by the Buy-Back Program.

This solicitation will expand the program implementation work already underway and requests tribes to work with Interior to determine the estimated schedule in which they wish to ultimately conduct outreach and engagement. An open solicitation period will be held through March 14, 2014, during which tribes with jurisdiction over these most fractionated locations are invited to submit letters of interest or cooperative agreement applications for participation in the program.

Additional solicitations will follow this initial period. Significant outreach, mapping and mineral evaluations are already occurring at many locations.

“We have heard from tribal leaders and individual landowners that they want predictability and transparency on the timing of implementation efforts,” said Kevin K. Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. “This open solicitation puts much of the timing in the hands of tribal governments and will allow the program to move on a quicker timeline.”

Implementation decisions will still rely on a number of factors, such as the severity of fractionation; degree of ownership overlap between tracts; geographic location to maximize efficiency and resources; appraisal complexity; and overall interest of the tribe as indicated by their cooperative agreement application.

More information on this solicitation is available here.

Outreach and tribal engagement will also continue with the tribes that represent the locations with the remaining 10 percent of fractionated lands. Flexible purchase ceilings will be used to protect against the risk of premature exhaustion of the available funds.

The program also released an Updated Implementation Plan today, which builds upon significant consultation and feedback from tribal nations over the past year. Updates outlined in the plan include a number of steps that tribal nations can take now to prepare for involvement in the Buy- Back Program. These steps include increasing owner awareness of the value and benefits of participation in the program and designating an authorized tribal point of contact to engage with the Program.

The Updated Implementation Plan can be found here.

New rules to address fracking on Indian lands

fracking_graphic_120418By Alysa Landry
Navajo Times
WASHINGTON, May 23, 2013

Hydraulic fracturing on Indian land may become more difficult under new rules proposed by the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management.

The Interior Department on May 16 issued new draft rules for hydraulic fracturing on public and Indian lands.

Fracturing, or “fracking,” is the process of drilling and injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to crack shale formations and unlock oil and gas.

The process is controversial because fracking releases methane gas and other toxic chemicals, which can contaminate nearby groundwater. This can be especially dangerous on the 56 million acres of Indian land in the country. On the more isolated reservations like the Navajo Nation, people and livestock depend on well water for drinking, cooking and washing.

Approximately 500,000 oil and gas wells are active in the United States. That includes 92,000 on public and tribal land, where about 13 percent of the nation’s natural gas and 5 percent of its oil are produced, according to statistics from the Interior Department.

Ninety percent of wells drilled on federal and Indian lands use fracking. Yet the BLM’s current regulations governing fracking on public and tribal lands are more than 30 years old and were not designed to address modern fracking technology. The revised rules would modernize management of the industry and help establish baseline safeguards to help protect the environment and reduce the human risk.

“We are proposing some common-sense updates that increase safety while also providing flexibility and facilitating coordination with states and tribes,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “As we continue to offer millions of acres of America’s public lands for oil and gas development, it is important that the public has full confidence that the right safety and environmental protections are in place.”

The new draft rules come after an initial proposal last fall. The Interior Department received more than 177,000 public comments on those rules. The updated draft proposal will be subject to a new 30-day public comment period.

The updated draft keeps the main components of the initial proposal, which requires operators to disclose the chemicals they use in fracking on public or tribal land, verify that fluids are not contaminating groundwater and confirm that management plans are in place for handling fluids that flow back to the surface.

Yet the draft already has drawn criticism from both environmentalists and industry leaders.

Industry officials object to what they call redundant regulation, while environmentalists say the standards do not adequately safeguard drinking water.