A Wyoming rancher is trying to convince a judge that a $250,000 grant he got to help protect wildlife on his property may be used to help fund an illegal wildlife-rights organization.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by lawyer Michael H. Brown says the grant was used to fund the Blackfeet Tribe to fight a lawsuit seeking to have a court order against it declared void, which is an important step in a legal battle over how much money tribal leaders receive from federal programs.
Brown, a partner at the law firm WilmerHale, said he received a grant from the Bureau of Land Management’s Office of Native American Affairs to buy a horse-trailer in the area of the Blackfoot Nation in 2014.
Brown said he wanted to keep the horse, and so he made a down payment and used the money to purchase the horse.
Brown, who is also a member of the tribe, said in court documents that the tribe was also seeking the sale of its herd of cattle and sheep in 2014 and 2015.
The BLM granted the permit, Brown said, and the BLM later sold the herd and cattle.
But it did not give him the money he needed to get the BLM to give the tribe permission to use the funds, Brown wrote.
In response to Brown’s lawsuit, BLM spokeswoman Michelle Oates wrote in an email that the agency has received numerous requests for assistance from federal agencies in recent years.
BLM “has not been able to track every application for assistance that is made to BLM, and as a result, the agency does not provide the specific details of each request,” Oates said.
She said BLM is reviewing the complaint and is evaluating whether the BLM has any information it can share with Brown.
Brown’s attorney, John E. Withers, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he was frustrated by the way the BLM treated the money.
The tribe has been using the money, WitherSens attorney said.
BLM has given more than $8 million to the tribes, and about a third of the funds went to tribal needs, he said.
“It’s just not fair,” Wither said.
“I’m not going to let that happen again.”
In a statement to the AP, BLM said it has “never approved funds for the Tribe’s purposes” but did not elaborate.
The BLM’s decision to reject the tribe’s application is a setback for the tribe and Brown, the lawsuit states.
He also said he had been considering legal action.
The Blackfeet Nation, an Indian nation of roughly 5,000, has been fighting to have the BLM allow the sale or leasing of its land for a tribal hunting lodge.
In the lawsuit, Brown and the Blackwater Tribe argue the BLM’s failure to allow the BLM-approved sale of land for hunting was based on federal policy that would allow it to grant the tribal lodge to a private entity.
The tribe has argued that BLM officials made decisions that made it difficult for it to sell the land and it lost millions in economic losses because of the process.
The agency’s decision in March 2016 to deny the tribe an application for a $25,000 federal wildlife management grant meant that Brown could no longer legally purchase the land.
Brown’s legal team said the BLM failed to provide the BLM with adequate information about the project.
Brown said he is disappointed that the BLM was able to get its way, and he plans to continue to fight to ensure that the funds are used to protect the Blacks, his attorney said in a statement.
The Interior Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.