September 5, 2013

Proposed land transfer to tribe heats up

Proposed land transfer to tribe heats up
BHG News Service

For the first time in nine years, a state agency is again going on record as being concerned about a possible transfer of thousands of acres that could be transferred to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
Game and Fish Director Terry Steinwand said last week the transfer would include thousands of acres of public land managed for fish, wildlife and recreation and would jeopardize free access to numerous boat ramps within the middle third of the reservoir.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was asked by the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation July 26, 2012, to transfer all land above 1,854 mean sea level within the reservation to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, to be held in trust for the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation.
The Game and Fish Department leases from the Corps and manages for wildlife approximately 7,000 acres within the proposed area, including Van Hook and Deepwater Creek wildlife management areas. In addition, more than 29,000 acres of Corps land that is currently open to public hunting and fishing could also be transferred, according to Game & Fish officials.
“Our major concern about this development,” Steinwand said, “is the loss of public land for hunters and anglers, which is currently managed by the Game and Fish Department and the Corps of Engineers.”
Over several decades since Game and Fish began leasing Corps land around Lake Sakakawea for wildlife management purposes, Steinwand said the agency invested more than a million dollars in sportsmen’s money in portions of those areas that would be included in a land transfer. While Game and Fish would retain leases and public access on land below 1,854 msl, Steinwand added that access to those remaining areas could become more difficult.
“This is a critical issue for hunters and anglers in the state,” Steinwand said. “It’s important that the Corps considers further public input before making a decision on any potential land transfer.”
This issue was first raised in 2004 when the Three Affiliated Tribes requested 36,000 acres be transferred.  At that time then Gov. John Hoeven (now U.S. senator) said the state would likely go to court to prevent the transfer of land it no longer needs around Lake Sakakawea. He said then that the plan wasn’t fair and could create a confusing map of go and no-go areas around the lake.
His comments were made at one of the public hearings held by the Corps to allow public comment. The transfer was considered the most significant change in the land’s status since it was acquired by the Corps back in the 40s for construction of the Garrison Dam and the permanent flood of Lake Sakakawea. Although the original request was for 36,000 acres, the Corps said at the time that 12,000 acres would not be included because it is leased for recreation sites and for wildlife management areas. Tribal Chairman Tex Hall made the formal request in 2004, saying it was part of the tribe’s longstanding quest to get back land it gave up for the dam.
The wheels seemed to be turning for the next couple of years in the Tribe’s direction, until the congressional delegation raised some questions of the Corps.
Larry Janis, chief of recreation and national resources for the Omaha Corps’ district, said “it went into limbo. There were discussions with the assistant secretary of civil works, the delegation, the Department of Interior and the corps, but it never proceeded,” he said.
On July 12, 2013, Hall wrote in a letter to the congressional delegation “we are continuing to move forward working cooperatively with the Department of Interior and the Army Corps of


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