by Darcy Thomas
Always a special place to me, the Bison Range is fast becoming my favorite destination for bird watching and wildlife viewing. Over the years I’ve enjoyed several visits there, lately I’ve been averaging a trip a month. The increase in my visits to the range has been influenced by two unrelated factors. First, my daughter moved to a small ranch just north of St. Ignatius, and since she can feed me and give me a bed to sleep on, it is much easier for me to visit the Bison Range. Taryn also loves to see birds and wildlife, so this is a win-win situation, turning my stay into a wildlife and bird-watching adventure.
The second reason for my increase in visits, is due to the 2020 management change from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) – where it rightfully belongs. I invited Stephanie Gillin, Information and Education Program Manager for the CSKT to give a presentation at the Flathead Audubon Society general meeting this past February. Stephanie related the history of the Bison Range Restoration, including how the National Bison Range was set aside by the federal government and given to the Flathead Tribes by treaty in 1908, including bison that were descendants of the free-ranging reservation herd started by tribal members. The story told in the Bison Range Visitor Center reflected the history of the establishment of the range by Theodore Roosevelt for the conservation of bison. It mentioned the bison purchased from the American Bison Society and from the Conrad herd.
Stephanie told us about tribal history that began in the 1870s, when CSKT Tribal members brought several of the country’s last remaining wild bison over the Continental Divide to start a herd on the Flathead Indian Reservation. She described the long struggle to return the land and the buffalo to the Tribes.
Congress, by way of Public Law 116-260, restored the Bison Range to the CSKT as a federal trust ownership, and placed the stewardship of all that lives within it into the capable hands of their management.
A visit to the CSKT Bison Range Visitor Center today relays the history of the Flathead Tribes, telling the story through engaging interactive displays and models. A group of Flathead Audubon members enjoyed the birds and wildlife, trails and visitor center this past May. But my advice to you would be – don’t wait for a field trip to go check out the CSKT Bison Range. Just go!
Wildlife are generally more active during short winter days making it a great time to see coyote, deer, elk, as well as bison at the range. You might see eagles and hawks as well as our winter songbirds, Northern Flickers, Townsend’s Solitaire and maybe an owl. Bundle up and head outdoors and enjoy the late fall and winter season.