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Tribal interest and concern with regard to wildlife has existed as long as the individual tribes have existed. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Tribes survived through the utilization of their natural resources. Wildlife was one of the most important resources for the provision of food, clothing, tools and raw materials used to fill a variety of basic needs. With the acquisition of horses, the Tribes were able to range over a larger area, hunting and gathering as they moved. During this period, they often moved throughout Montana to hunt buffalo and other wildlife.
Under provisions of the Hellgate Treaty of 1855, the Flathead Indian Reservation was established as the homeland for the Kootenai, Salish and Pend Oreille Tribes. Article Three of the Treaty provided the Tribes the exclusive right to hunt and fish on the Reservation, as well as the right to hunt, fish and gather on traditional open and unclaimed lands outside the Reservation boundaries.
During the early 1900s, Indian lands were taken by the U. S. Government for creation of the National Bison Range, irrigation projects, townsites, power sites, Agency administration purposes, and land allotments to individual Indians. All lands not so allotted were then opened to homesteading by non-Indians. In 1921, Ninepipe and Pablo National Wildlife Refuges were created. Those refuges are currently managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Additional wildlife management lands on the Reservation are administered by the Tribes and by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Today, the Tribes own or control approximately sixty percent of the 1.25 million acre land base of the Reservation. Wildlife habitat under Tribal management ranges from semi-arid sagebrush-dominated grassland to glaciated wetlands to high elevation subalpine habitat.
Contemporary Tribal wildlife management activities began in the 1930s and continue today under direction of the Tribal Council. The Tribal Wildlife Management Program functions under three programmatic components - population baseline data collection and monitoring, integration of wildlife issues into resource management decisions, and administration of the program to enhance efficiency and effectiveness. The Tribal Wildlife Management Program currently employs a staff of one Wildlife Program Manager, six Wildlife Biologists, one Wildlife Habitat Restoration Biologist, one Wildlife Biologist Trainee and three Wildlife Technicians.