The Fight to Protect a Sacred Wildland
We’re working with the Blackfeet Nation to prevent drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine
In the heart of the Crown of the Continent, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine lies on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, bounded on the north by Glacier National Park and the east by the Blackfeet Reservation. The Great Bear and Bob Marshall Wilderness Areas lie to the west and south. The Badger-Two Medicine is a designated Traditional Cultural District under the National Historic Preservation Act because of its significance to the Blackfeet Nation. Home range and a crucial habitat link for grizzly bears, wolverines, and westslope cutthroat trout, the Badger is also the headwaters of two drainages, Badger Creek and the South Fork Two Medicine River. Together these two drainages water the Reservation and the northern plains of Montana.
What’s at Stake
In June of 2013, Mountain States Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit on behalf of lessee Sidney Longwell of Solenex, LLC to lift the suspension on the Hall Creek lease. Should Solenex prevail, other lessees in the Badger could seek exploration on their leases, which could devastate the Badger and damage the ecological integrity of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. A Solenex victory also could set a dangerous precedent whereby the authority of federal agencies to suspend leases is weakened or overruled by the courts.
Badger Creek in the sacred Badger-Two Medicine (photo courtesy of Leanne Falcon and Glacier Two Medicine Alliance)
Hall Creek Leasing History
In 1982, Sidney Longwell, an economic development director for the city of Baton Rouge, purchased the 6,200‐acre Hall Creek lease for$1 per acre. Subsequently, the Lewis and Clark National Forest, despite strong protest and over 50 appeals, leased most of the Badger-Two Medicine for natural gas development without proper environmental analysis or consideration of endangered species. After a protracted battle and an outpouring of public opposition, the USFS granted the permit in 1993. The lease has been suspended indefinitely since 1997.
In 2006, then-Senator Max Baucus passed legislation with bipartisan support to prohibit future federal energy leasing along the Rocky Mountain Front and to provide tax incentives for leaseholders to sell or donate their Front leases. The law also prohibits re-leasing of an existing lease that expires or is retired. Since the lease withdrawal became law, approximately 110,800 of the original 152,000 acres the federal government leased along Montana’s Front have been permanently retired.
Eighteen leases remain, including Solenex's, and they involve 42,000 acres in the Badger. Fifteen of those 18 leases are held by oil and gas corporation Devon Energy of Oklahoma.
Sometimes it takes an imminent threat and a sense of urgency to spur action toward a solution. As the pressure builds to save the Badger-Two Medicine before it is irreparably damaged by industrial development, a broad array of voices -- including those of Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, the Department of Agriculture, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and a multitude of tribal members, Montanans, and former public lands managers -- formally objected in 2015 to any oil and gas development in the Badger.
Badger-Two Medicine (photo courtesy of Leanne Falcon and Glacier Two Medicine Alliance)
Thankfully,the Department of Interior listened, and in March 2016 cancelled the Solenex lease, setting the stage for the cancellation of the other 17 leases.
But Solenex then amended its 2013 court complaint to challenge the authority of the Department of Interior to cancel the lease. A Washington, D.C. district judge granted the amendment, yet again prolonging the legal battle to save the Badger.
We're confident, however, the Department of Interior will eventually cancel all of the leases, and we can start on a solution for permanently protecting this sacred place.
Role of the Tribe
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the Tribal Historic Preservation Office, the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Montana/Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, and the National Congress of American Indians have all gone on record in opposition to oil and gas development in the Badger. They have urged the federal government and Montana’s delegation to cancel all of the remaining leases. The Badger is the sacred home of the Blackfeet Creation Story and a vital link between the history and future of Blackfeet society. Indian country now stands behind their leaders, saying with one voice: “Drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine will never be an option.”