The Fight to Protect a Sacred Wildland
We’re working with the Blackfeet Nation to prevent drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine and permanently protect this revered place
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 and ongoing use by the Niitsitapi (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 against the federal government on behalf of lessee Sidney Longwell of Solenex, LLC to lift the suspension on the Hall Creek lease. In response to the lawsuit and as a result of the incredible outpouring of support for the Badger-Two Medicine, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell took the courageous step of cancelling Sidney Longwell's lease and two other illegally issued leases. Unfortunately, Sidney Longwell and the Mountain States Legal Foundation – along with another former leaseholder, W.A. Moncrief Jr. – continue to challenge the cancellations in court and pursue their desire to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine.
As long as the court challenges continue, the threat remains.
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. During this time, much of the Rocky Mountain Front was leased as part of a leasing initiative led by Interior Secretary James Watt. After a protracted battle and an outpouring of public opposition, the Forest Service granted the permit to drill in 1993. The lease was then suspended indefinitely in 1997.
In 2006, 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 an existing lease that expires or is retired. In the years immediately after the lease witdrawl became law, approximately 110,800 of the original 152,000 acres the federal government leased along Montana’s Front were permanently retired.
Eighteen leases, however, remained in the Badger-Two Medicine, covering approximately 42,000 acres.
Sometimes it takes an imminent threat and a sense of urgency to spur action toward a solution. As the pressure built to save the Badger-Two Medicine before it was 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.
Thankfully, the Department of the Interior listened, and in March 2016 cancelled the Solenex lease and ultimately cancelled the final two leases in January 2017. On November 16, 2016, the largest leaseholder, Devon Energy, agreed to voluntarily relinquish its 15 leases, saying, "It's the right thing to do."
For the first time in 35 years, the Badger-Two Medicine was free from all leases.
Solenex, however, amended its 2013 court complaint to challenge the authority of the Department of the Interior to cancel its lease. The Solenex case has been fully briefed and now awaits a ruling by Washington D.C. District Court Judge Richard Leon. Another former leaseholder, W. A. Moncrief, Jr., later filed a similar suit challenging the lease cancellations, yet again prolonging the legal battle to save the Badger.
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.”
Working Toward Permanent Protection
How do you protect a landscape as unique as the Badger-Two Medicine in a way that respects the myriad values found there? What tools are available to ensure wildlife and pristine headwaters will remain as they are into the future – but will also ensure that Blackfeet ceremony and treaty rights are also preserved? When the threat of industrial development is removed once and for all, these are the questions that will remain for all who care about the future of the Badger.
Bound by shared values, MWA, the Blackfeet Tribe, and our conservation partners are currently exploring options for permanently protecting this area.