Native American Group Urges Feds To Let Tribes Help Manage Grizzlies

Jul 22, 2016

The grizzly bear is an iconic species for many Native American tribes.
Credit Carol S. Bock

A national Native American conservation group says grizzly bears shouldn’t be removed from the Endangered Species List, but instead should expand the bear’s range onto tribal lands.

Ben Nuvamsa is a former Hopi councilman and a spokesman for Guardians of Our Ancestor’s Legacy or GOAL. He said the grizzly plays an intricate role in the belief systems of many tribes.

“I am a member of the Bear Clan at Hopi, and we are the traditional leaders at Hopi. And it has a long and important story in our migration history,” he says. “Other tribes have similar interests or beliefs in the bear.”

Nuvamsa said, by executive order, the federal government must consult tribes about issues like this one that affect them. Recently, he met with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe to express tribal frustration with the delisting plan. But he added that neither the feds nor Wyoming Game and Fish have given much consideration to the group’s proposal to expand the bear’s range onto tribal lands.

“I see that throughout Indian land, you’ve got some good property, some good habitat where the species can survive.”

He said, some tribes have already written letters and passed resolutions agreeing to co-manage the grizzly bear on tribal lands. Nuvamsa added, such lands are ideal because they’re often still in the same pristine condition they were in when the grizzly roamed there.  A good example is the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, although he said developing a management strategy could be difficult there since the two tribes recently dissolved their joint business council.

“If you want to introduce a species onto Wind River Indian Reservation, then you meet with the tribes there and design the program to where it would be consistent with their values and goals they have,” he says. “And then you go to Idaho and you might be different concerns there, different issues.”

The Wind River Indian Reservation already hosts some grizzlies that have moved into the area.