27 February 2005

Bison Range Must Decide...

Missoulian: Bison Range Workers Get More Time To Decide

February 25, 2005 - JOHN STROMNES, The Missoulian

MOIESE - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has temporarily extended a
deadline imposed on six National Bison Range workers who would work under tribal supervision if a shared management agreement takes effect next month.

Steve Kallin, Bison Range project manager, said Wednesday the
employees are unwilling to choose one of three options for keeping
their jobs at the Bison Range because they lack important information
about how the change would affect them.

Employees were given three options for staying in their current
positions at the Bison Range: They could become employees of the
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes with tribal benefits; become
tribal employees with federal benefits; or continue as Fish and
Wildlife Service workers, but be supervised by the tribes. They could
also quit, or seek a transfer elsewhere.
"Some are interested in knowing who their tribal supervisor would be.
At this point the selection hasn't been made. The (Fish and Wildlife
Service) understands that's important information. We're letting the
deadline extend for a while," Kallin said.

Another unknown is the details of the intergovernmental personnel
agreement that each employee would have to sign in order to maintain
their status as career Fish and Wildlife Service employees.

"The IPA has been drafted, but it is going to the tribes for review,"
before it will be available in its final form, Kallin said.

Under the IPA, the worker's position is paid for by the federal
government but supervised and controlled by the tribes.

He said the agency has imposed no new deadline, but workers must
certainly choose an option for future employment by March 15, if not

Meanwhile, tribal administrators and political leaders, including
Tribal Chairman Fred Matt, met with several of the affected workers
Feb. 11 to discuss the upcoming transfer and to respond to their concerns.

"We provided them with a letter of invitation and specific tribal
personnel rules and regulations," said Clayton Matt, head of the
tribes' Natural Resources Department.

He said general concerns of the employees were discussed, but the IPA
and the hiring of the tribal coordinator who will supervise the tribal
employees, did not come up for discussion.

"We'll do the best we can in filling that position, and as soon as we
have it filled, we'll notify the Bison Range. Our goal is to have it
done right at the time of transfer, or even before then," Matt said.

On a related matter, Matt Kales, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman
in Denver, confirmed he's heard "rumors" that a congressional hearing
might be held to review the annual funding agreement request that
turns over about half of the Bison Range Complex management and budget
to the tribes.

He said he is not aware of any such hearing scheduled as yet, and he
almost certainly would have heard of one, since officials at the
office would be asked to participate.

"There's a pretty specific process for such a hearing. This office has
not heard anything concrete about any hearings regarding the Bison
Range AFA," he said Wednesday.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or


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