Tribal leaders from the Great Plains and across Canada have come together in opposition to removal of the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear from the Endangered Species Act protection.
The animal was removed from protected status last month, the Rapid City Journal reported. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke said the population has rebounded from as few as nearly 140 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today.
"This achievement stands as one of America's great conservation successes, the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication on the part of the state, tribal, federal and private partners," Zinke said in a statement. "As a Montanan, I'm proud of what we achieved together."
More than 128 tribal nations have signed a "Reclamation of Independence" treaty of cooperation in the wake of the removal. Top tribal officials gathered in a daylong meeting in Rapid City on Tuesday to find common ground on the issue.
Tribal leaders say they fear removing the grizzly not only will lead to trophy hunting of an animal they consider sacred, but also comes as President Donald Trump has proposed the opening of more tribal lands for oil exploration and mining.
"This is truly a struggle for the very soul of the Earth, of all we have ever been, or will ever become, to stand united against the axis of evil," Piikani Nation Chief Stan Grier said.
Grier initiated the unity document, which started as an accord between the Great Sioux Nation and the Blackfoot Confederacy, in May. It also opposes extraction of tar sands for oil production as well as the completion and use of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.
Oglala Sioux Tribal President Troy Scott Weston said the gathering of tribal representatives in Rapid City was "powerful."
"As long as we stand the way we are today, we will survive," Weston said.
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com