Interest in and concern about wildlife by tribal people who preceded today’s members of the Selis, Qlispe and Ksanka tribes (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes) has existed as long as our individual tribes. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, tribal people survived through the utilization of our natural resources. Wildlife was one of the most important resources for the provision of food, clothing, tools, trade, and raw materials used to fill a variety of basic needs. With the acquisition of horses, our tribes were able to range over a larger area, hunting, gathering, and trading as we moved. During this period, we often moved throughout Montana to hunt buffalo and other wildlife.
The CSKT have always been very progressive and proactive in the management and protective of our incredible lands and wildlife resources, Tribal Council actions have resulted in the establishment of the 90,000 acre Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness Area, the first tribal wilderness area. They have also created a Wilderness buffer zone and two Tribal Primitive Areas, as well as thousands of acres of Tribal Fish and Wildlife Habitat Management Areas, as well as special management areas for grizzly bears, elk and bighorn sheep. In addition, the CSKT has been very proactive in protecting the clean air and waters of their reservation.
Contemporary tribal wildlife management activities began in the 1930s and continue today under direction of the Tribal Council. Contracted from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1988 under public Law 638, the Tribal Wildlife Management Program (TWMP) was established and functions under three programmatic components - population baseline data collection and monitoring, integration of wildlife issues into resource management decisions, program administration to enhance efficiency and effectiveness and public information and education. Since its inception, the Tribal Wildlife Management Program’s Programmatic vision focused on the restoration and enhancement of the biological diversity of the ecosystems of the Flathead Indian Reservation and aboriginal lands by working jointly with other tribal programs and other natural resource management agencies. The TWMP staff works to provide the best management of all terrestrial wildlife and habitat resources possible, while simultaneously realizing the importance of traditional and cultural factors.
The TWMP has focused many of our efforts on the restoration of degraded wildlife habitats and the restoration of healthy populations of endangered, threatened and extirpated species of native wildlife. To date, tribal wildlife biologists have been very active in recovery of federally-listed wildlife species including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, northern gray wolves, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, trumpeter swans and northern leopard frogs. Reintroduction of peregrine falcons, trumpeter swans and northern leopard frogs has assisted in the current increasing populations of each species on the reservation.
Although the three tribes have weathered significant difficulties and challenges down through the years, the people have always cherished and protected the wildlife of the Flathead Indian Reservation and our off-Reservation aboriginal lands. That tradition continues today, with strong cultural support for wildlife and habitats by the Selis-Qlispe and Ksanka Culture Committees and Elders, as well as the strong support of the Tribal Council and tribal people.