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Pine Creek Lake. Photo by Walker Stole
Jan 10 2018

Topsy-turvy Times for the Badger-Two Medicine

The federal government is defending lease cancellations, but has made the Badger part of the national monument debacle


In the past months, the federal government has recommended national monument protection of the Badger-Two Medicine area and submitted a solid legal defense of the oil and gas lease cancellations enacted by the last administration, which are currently being challenged by two disgruntled former leaseholders. Remarkably, we now have two consecutive and politically polar-opposite administrations recognizing the tremendous and irreplaceable values of the Badger – a testament to both the landscape itself and the persistent, decades-long advocacy in its defense.

In this confounding era when we are confronting a full-on assault on our public lands and natural resources, it’s tempting to consider these recent federal actions on behalf of the Badger as gifts, or at least as tiny nuggets of hope amidst a sea of destruction, desecration, and industry handouts. The fact that the current administration is standing up in court for the Badger-Two Medicine is certainly a much-needed nugget of hope, and we’re thankful for it. The latter “gift” – a proposed Badger-Two Medicine National Monument – has arrived with a few essential missing pieces, such as an articulated path to true co-management for the Blackfeet Nation, a path that may need to be authorized by Congress. 

Beyond the glaring lack of detail for how a Badger Monument might be accomplished, it is impossible to ignore the context of this proposal. In nearly the same breath that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke used to suggest the Badger would be a good fit for a future national monument, he defended his recommendation to dramatically shrink Bear Ears National Monument, a place that’s as sacred to five sovereign southwestern nations as the Badger-Two Medicine is to the Blackfeet. Last month President Trump followed that recommendation and shrunk Bear Ears by almost 90 percent. 

It’s nothing less than reprehensible for Sec. Zinke to propose national monument status for the Badger-Two Medicine at the same time he’s making a mockery of that status with his recommendations to shrink Bear Ears and five other land-based national monuments.

It would also be Pollyannaish to consider a Badger National Monument without taking into account the dishonestly named “National Monument Creation and Protection Act” (H.R. 3990).  This bill targets the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that enables presidents to designate national monuments. It recently passed out of the House Natural Resources Committee. Hundreds of legal scholars believe that what President Trump did to Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments (which he shrunk by nearly 50 percent) was illegal. H.R. 3990 would make it legal by enabling the current and future presidents to shrink any existing national monuments they want. H.R. 3990 would also make it virtually impossible for any future president to designate a national monument.

The shine really starts to come off a Badger National Monument when one considers the fact that not only did Montana’s lone congressman, Greg Gianforte, vote for H.R. 3990 but that Senator Steve Daines is co-sponsoring his own version of the same legislation over on his side of the chamber. 

It’s nothing less than reprehensible for Sec. Zinke to propose national monument status for the Badger-Two Medicine at the same time he’s making a mockery of that status with his recommendations to shrink Bear Ears and five other land-based national monuments.

At best, there’s a major breakdown in communication in Washington, D.C. among current and former Republican members of the Montana delegation. At worst, Sec. Zinke’s recommendation for a Badger National Monument was never meant to be anything but a slight of hand distraction while the Trump administration and Congress attempt to dismantle the Antiquities Act, one of the longest-standing and most significant conservation tools in American history.

Political realism aside, it still seems foolish to squander this opportunity to advance efforts to permanently protect the Badger just because it is not going to be easy. Administrations and congressional majorities come and go. And as those who have followed the Badger saga from the beginning know all too well, if we had limited our efforts to things that had been tried before or surefire bets, the Badger would still be leased for oil and gas development and might even sport an exploratory oil well or two. 

In many ways, protecting the cultural and natural resources in the Badger are perfect compliments – two sides of the same coin. We can all agree that any commercial, recreational, or other activity that diminishes either the cultural or ecological values of the Badger should be prohibited or severely limited. We must also ensure that balance exists between protecting traditional uses and protecting wilderness, with that balance reflected in co-management between the American public and the sovereign Blackfeet Nation. 

While ensuring that Blackfeet treaty rights are honored and crafting management plans that respect both historic and ongoing ceremonial uses may be new territory for MWA, finding compromise based on mutual respect for our partners and seeking creative solutions that honor the myriad values of a special place are in the very fabric of who we are as an organization. I know we are up to this task. 

In the coming months, we will find out if our elected officials and decision-makers in Washington, including Sec. Zinke, are fully committed to the idea of permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine.

- Casey Perkins, MWA Rocky Mountain Front field director