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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jul 02 2020

A Big Step Forward for the Badger

The Blackfeet Nation proposes legislation to permanently protect the Badger-Two Medicine

A week after a federal appeals court upheld the cancellation of the last remaining lease in the Badger-Two Medicine, the Blackfeet Nation officially proposed legislation to permanently protect this one-of-a-kind place. If it becomes law, the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act will conclude a decades-long fight to secure the Badger’s future.

The Badger-Two Medicine is a cradle of Blackfeet culture and one of the most intact ecosystems in the lower 48. Nestled between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Badger is home to grizzly bears, Canada lynx, Westslope cutthroat trout, and all other species that make the Crown of the Continent one of the wildest regions in the Lower 48. MWA has been supporting our Blackfeet partners in the effort to protect this unique area for many years, and we’re thrilled that the tribe has taken the next step toward permanently protecting its future. 

What the Legislation Would Do

The Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act would officially designate the area as the Badger-Two Medicine Cultural Heritage Area. In the simplest terms, a cultural heritage area designation would keep the Badger as it is and secure its future after decades of uncertainty. All existing uses like traditional cultural practices, hunting, hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and camping would continue to be allowed. New oil and gas leases and motorized use have been off limits in the area since 2002, so the legislation would have no impact on these uses. Non-commercial timber harvest would be allowed to continue to maintain forest health, mitigate wildfires, and protect private property.

Significantly, the Cultural Heritage Area designation would guarantee that the government would honor its existing treaty rights with the Blackfeet Nation. It would also establish formal consultation between the Tribe and the U.S. Forest service on future management decisions, ensuring that the Blackfeet will have a voice in the management of a place that has deep and longstanding spiritual and cultural significance.

The bill also provides the Blackfeet Nation an opportunity to compete for trail-building and other contracted forest work.

Righting Historical Wrongs

The Badger-Two Medicine is deeply significant to the Blackfeet, and for far too long the federal government has excluded the Tribe from having a significant say in its management. The legislative proposal is a crucial step towards giving the Blackfeet a significant say in the management of the Badger-Two Medicine and beginning to right a centuries-long wrong that has been perpetrated against the Blackfeet. 

“There are important voices that for too long have not been heard,” said Blackfeet Historic Preservation Officer John Murray in the press release announcing the legislation. “We have been refused a seat at our own table, and people all the way across the country have been making decisions about our most sacred ancestral lands. This proposal provides us a voice in the discussion.”

Securing Permanent Protection 

If it becomes law, the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act will also be the final act in the decades-long fight to permanently protect the Badger-Two Medicine. The area was initially recommended for Wilderness designation in the 1970s, before the Bureau of Land Management began illegally issuing oil and gas leases in the area without consulting the Tribe in 1981. Since then, all the remaining leases in the area have been cancelled or withdrawn. (The Blackfeet Nation released the legislative proposal on the heels of a federal appeals court ruling upholding the cancellation of the final oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine. The lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of dozens that the federal government issued illegally in the early 1980s.)

Momentum to permanently protect the Badger has continued to build for decades, and now we have a chance to finish the job. MWA has played a seminal role in protecting this wild and revered part of the state, and in recent years, we’ve proudly stood by our tribal partners in seeing the last of the leases retired.

But the work to protect the Badger isn’t done. Congress still needs to pass legislation that will permanently protect the area, and that’s where our work in the Badger now lies. We’ll continue to hold our elected officials accountable to Montanans who overwhelmingly want to see the Badger permanently protected, and we’ll continue to support the Blackfeet in their efforts to secure the future of the Badger-Two Medicine. If you'd like to hear about opportunities to take action in support of the Badger, you can sign up for our email list on our homepage. 

 
Zach Angstead
Central Montana Field Director

Zach works with communities in central Montana to protect island ranges like the Little Belt and Big Snowy Mountains, prairie wildlands, and the Rocky Mountain Front. When he isn’t working you can find Zach hiking, fishing, camping with his family, and caving to explore Montana underground.
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