Graduate Student Gets Money To Watch Moose On Blackfeet Reservation

Growing up in Browning, the heart of the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, amidst a rarefied ecosystem where plains intersect with the Rocky Mountain front to forge a rich suite of wildlife habitats, Landon Magee learned early on the importance of its natural environment.

Not only does the region contain an abundance of creatures inhabiting a largely unchanged landscape, he said, but it is also rich in cultural and economic resources that help sustain the Blackfeet Nation. And while Magee says he’s excited to study wildlife biology in a graduate program at the University of Montana at Missoula, he’s already thinking about how his education and the skills he’s gaining can help his native country.

“I always dreamed of going back to work as a biologist in my home town. The reserve has such a large-scale landscape with such biodiversity, it should be every biologist’s dream,” Magee said. “But the Department of Fish and Wildlife has always been limited in its ability to fill these biologist positions to do the necessary scientific work, and it has been particularly difficult to recruit indigenous biologists.”

Historically, tribal fish and wildlife departments have been managed and staffed by non-native biologists, largely due to the lack of educational opportunities for native students on reservations in Montana. Gerald “Buzz” Cobell, the director of the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department, learned this firsthand as a talented young biologist from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation who, after a brief stint as head of the local department of fish and wildlife while fresh out of college, ended up leaving more than 30 years ago for a more lucrative position with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).

After a brief retirement, Cobell returned to his hometown to lead the department again, although his focus has changed – rather than just contributing to the tribe’s scientific database, he works to promote natural resource management. of the Blackfeet Nation among its native stewards. , cultivate native biologists and raise them through the ranks while ensuring that they are compensated at a competitive level.

“One of my career goals has been to create more opportunities for Indigenous scholarship and STEM research, and to make sure our local youth understand that there are plenty of opportunities out there for them” , Cobell said. “But you kind of need that seedbed to be planted and nurtured for a while. So since I returned to the Blackfeet reservation three and a half years ago, I have worked hard to hire tribal members, recruit them and create more opportunities like this.

“But I’m kind of ready to go when the sun goes down and go back to retirement,” Cobell added, “and I feel a lot more comfortable doing that when I have young men like Landon. [and his peers] work your way up. »

Magee first met Cobell the summer before he started graduate school in Missoula, when he worked as a seasonal conflict-response bear technician on the reservation.

“After a few summers, I could see there was a lot of potential there,” Cobell said. “He grew up on the reserve, just like me, and he saw the potential to do a lot of good. I basically told him to find something he’s passionate about and keep doing it.

A moose feeds in Fishercap Lake at Many Glacier on July 31, 2021. Tristan Scott | flathead beacon

Although Magee warns that there’s plenty to stoke a wildlife biologist’s passion at the Blackfoot Indian Reservation, located at the eastern end of Glacier National Park, he has focused most of his academic energy on the moose. Specifically, it aims to initiate a new moose population monitoring study to determine the abundance and recruitment rate of moose calves in the area, helping the tribe determine status and inform its policies for conservation management. Currently, the Blackfoot Indian Reservation has no ongoing moose population monitoring efforts, while Glacier National Park has limited data, having not conducted a moose survey. for almost six decades.

This surprised Magee, who learned that moose were an important source of income for the Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Department (BFWD). Last year, BFWD raised $144,000 through the sale of five moose licenses. If wildlife officials had a better understanding of the moose population, Magee explained, they could determine whether it is appropriate to issue more permits or, alternatively, fewer tags.

At the urging of Cobell, Magee applied for federal funding for the FWS’ Tribal Wildlife Grant Program (TWGP), which is designed to “fulfil federal trust responsibilities and achieve tribal sovereignty by expanding the capacity natural resources of the tribes,” according to the agency.

“A conservative approach to moose tagging is common and allows management agencies to avoid the risk of overharvest, while meeting the public’s desire for the opportunity to harvest moose,” said writes Magee in his TWGP proposal. “However, when moose provide a significant source of revenue as is the case for BFWD, a conservative approach can restrict an agency’s potential to increase revenue, which also limits its ability to fund studies. monitoring and conservation practices.”

Last month, the FWS awarded more than $5.9 million to federally recognized Native American and Alaska Native tribes to benefit fish, wildlife and their habitats, supporting 33 tribes engaged in projects conservation in 16 states.

They included Montana’s Blackfeet Indian Reservation, where Magee is using the $200,000 grant to buy 125 camera traps to estimate moose abundance, as well as hire a few young Native field technicians to help out.

“I wish I had more opportunities like this when I was in high school,” Magee said, “so if I can get a few young kids to enjoy those on-the-job experiences and understand the range of opportunity for them, while contributing to our data on moose on the reserve, I look forward to the success of this project.”

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