POLSON — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) have been awarded over $37 million in grants for restoration, conservation, and preservation projects on the reservation.
CSKT was selected for a project called 'Bio-Cultural Restoration within the Crown of the Continent' by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation as part of their America the Beautiful Challenge.
The $3.5 million award will be used to develop landscape conservation strategies for 16 landscape features, do invasive plant risk assessments, work to restore whitebark pine, and create culturally focused community collaboration.
"Projects will include funding for forage management on the Tribe’s bison range, reconnecting resources and cultural practices, recovering functioning systems that support First Foods and ceremonial species; improving ecological connectivity; and growing a trained conservation workforce," CSKT shared.
"The America the Beautiful grant was a big lift. It's really unique because it's a cultural landscape type of grant," CSKT Division of Fish, Wildlife, Recreation, and Conservation Manager Whisper Camel Means told MTN News.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded CSKT $1.02 million to improve solid waste infrastructure for recycling.
CSKT is looking to expand existing recycling programs while also establishing five new recycling collection facilities with more equipment and cultivating community partnerships for previously un-recycled materials like white goods, cardboard, and aluminum.
"It's going to help us figure out really how we can do more in terms of recycling and reducing our footprint in regards to solid waste and solid waste management," CSKT Natural Resources Department Head Rich Janssen described.
He added that there has been an uptick in illegal dumping so the grants will help the public learn the best ways to recycle and have an easier opportunity to recycle, "This is going to help people make [recycling] simple without dumping on Tribal lands."
CSKT's Natural Resource Department has also received $1.6 million from the EPA through the Columbia River Basin Restoration Funding Assistance Program to map out and do a risk assessment of residential septic systems on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
The EPA's Environmental Justice Program from the Biden-Harris Administration’s Justice40 Initiative gave CSKT just over $900,000 to reduce swimmer's itch from Flathead Lake.
Through local partnerships, the money will go towards installing rinse stations and outdoor message boards at five public-use beaches around the lake.
"It's a parasite that gets under the skin of swimmers. We all seem to have gotten it at least once in our life at Flathead Lake. What this grant will do is do some education at the local swimming areas, partnering with Flathead Lakers, and bring in some shower stations where people once they get out of the lake they can shower right away," Janssen explained.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant gave $143,000 for CSKT to study their bison.
The bison on the Bison Range in Moiese are descendants of the free-ranging Flathead Reservation herd that was started by Tribal members in the 1800s. It is important to CSKT to perpetuate their culture and tell their history, which includes keeping bison herds healthy.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tribal Wildlife Grant will allow CSKT to do that by investigating patterns of bison interactions on the range.
The project will look into how bison move around the area, what plants they eat, and foraging conditions. The results will then give CSKT a better understanding of what bison need and what improvements can be made to their environment.
"We're going to be able to put some trackers on a couple of bison and look at where they're utilizing forage around the range so that we can focus on weed management in those areas or planting more grasses that they like to eat, rejuvenating some of the stock tanks to try to draw them there,"Camel Means detailed. "So, it's really a tool that we're going to use to kind of map range condition and see what the bison are really focusing on."
The largest award is $30.5 million. These funds — from the Federal Highway Administration’s National Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects program — will go towards updates and rehabilitation of U.S. Highway 93 from Dublin Gulch Road to Gunlock Road.
Camel Means said there will be wildlife crossing structure improvements, additions, and expansions. One of those improvements will take place in Post Creek where there is currently a 25-foot bridge.
"That [bridge] will be expanded to a 500-foot bridge so grizzly bears can walk under, that water can move again, deer elk, everything will be able to walk under there," Camel Means noted.
Additionally, CSKT is looking to construct a new wildlife overpass north of the Ninepipes Lodge and Reservoir.
"We will be conferring with experts to make that as effective as possible," Camel Means said.
CSKT is also planning on constructing tunnels underneath the road to connect wetlands on either side of the highway.
These tunnels will allow animals — like waterfowl — to move from one area to the next without getting hit by a vehicle.
The timelines for the various projects have not been set yet. However, we will keep you updated as more plans take shape and work begins.