Sacred Badger-Two Medicine region is finally free of oil and gas leases

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has announced on January 10, 2017 the cancellation of the last remaining contested leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

After 30 years of heated debate, the federal government has finally cancelled the remaining two leases located in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Rocky Mountain Front which were held by Moncrief Oil and the JG Kluthe Trust and totaled just over 11,600 acres.

This action sends a message that the Badger-Two Medicine never was and never will be an appropriate location for drilling activities. For the first time in over three decades, the Badger-Two medicine is free from the threat of oil and gas developmemt. The Wilderness Society welcomes these lease cancellations and will defend the victory to ensure that the Badger-Two Medicine remains lease-free.

“We are overjoyed that this wild area has finally been protected from oil and gas leasing. It always has been and always will be too wild to drill,” said Jamie Williams, Wilderness Society President. “The spectacular landscapes will continue to thrive as the cultural heart of the Blackfeet Nation.”

“We are overjoyed that this wild area has finally been protected from oil and gas leasing”

Flanked by Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine an area is central to the Blackfeet Tribe's cultural identity. It is known as a place of prayer, fasting and vision questing—a holy place.

The area is also simply too wild to drill. Largely roadless, the grasslands, forests and rugged terrain provide secure habitat for wildlife like grizzly bears, elk, wolverines and many other species.

Over the last several years, the federal government has taken a closer look at the validity of oil and gas leases in the region after Louisiana-based Solenex challenged the government's suspension of drilling consideration on their lease. The Department of the Interior determined that the Solenex lease and the other remaining leases were illegally issued, as the Blackfeet Tribe was never consulted, bedrock environmental laws were ignored and the environmental impacts of industrial development were not assessed. In March 2016, Secretary Jewell cancelled the Badger-Two Medicine lease held by Solenex.

Then in November 2016, Secretary Jewell announced the cancellation of the largest remaining block of leases held by Devon Energy, totaling just over 30,000 acres. This was a huge victory, as Devon voluntarily relinquished the leases in what was, as Devon Energy Corp. CEO David Hager said, “simply the right thing to do.”

Today's decision of cancelling the remaining two leases is an important step for both conservation and tribal justice, as the Department of the Interior acted upon its moral and legal obligation to invalidate the leases that, for decades, threatened the sacred Badger-Two Medicine area.

Badger-Two Medicine’s complex conservation history

In 1981, the Department of the Interior under the Reagan administration began issuing dozens of oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine without full environmental review and consulting the Blackfeet people.

While similar leases once threatened other public lands along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, that threat has largely been eliminated through years of effort. The Wilderness Society, in partnership with local residents, hunters and anglers and other conservation organizations have been able to permanently withdraw the area from future federal energy leasing and seen grandfathered leases bought out and retired.

The story in Badger-Two Medicine is a complex and hard-fought victory.

Since the misguided leasing of the Badger in the 1980’s, more than 110,000 acres of leases have been relinquished voluntarily by energy interests. However, a handful of companies have declined offers to buy-out or swap their leases for holdings in less sensitive areas.

One of those companies—Solenex, LLC—filed suit in 2013, demanding access to their highly-contested lease area, precipitating the need to rid Badger-Two Medicine of leases once and for all.

In the fall of 2015, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recommended lease cancelation, writing that industrialization of such sensitive sites could not be mitigated. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack concurred, and on Oct. 31, 2015 advised that Interior officials should cancel the leases. 

And now, less than two years later, with the Solenex, Devon, Moncrief, and Kluthe leases now removed, the Badger-Two Medicine is finally free of leases that have threatened it for far too long.   

Broad support from the government, the American people, tribal nations and even energy companies show how critical these lease cancellations are in protecting a sacred area and righting past wrongs.

Although the new head of the Department of the Interior can reverse great gains made on protecting public lands, the nominated Interior Secretary Rep. Ryan Zinke has repeatedly emphasized that working with tribes and local hunters and anglers are important to him. In place as revered as Badger-Two Medicine, we will work to ensure that this victory is upheld. 

Working together to protect Badger-Two Medicine

Conservation partners joined the Blackfeet Nation more than 30 years ago in the Tribe’s effort to cancel the leases. Together, they have fought to protect this area’s ancient heritage, wildlife habitats and key migration corridors.

Many more voices have joined the chorus calling for lease cancellation, including: the Blackfoot Confederacy, Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, National Congress of American Indians, Montana’s senior Senator Jon Tester, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, Glacier County Commissioners, coalition of retired Glacier National Park superintendents, retired US Forest Service supervisors, retired BLM leadership, former Chiefs of the US Forest Service, hunting and angling groups, local ranchers and residents, and even the rock band Pearl Jam.

Today’s decision by Secretary Jewell is welcomed by all and brings hope that we can work together to protect our wild places that are simply too wild to drill. 

You can learn more about the Blackfeet Nation and their struggle to protect Badger-Two Medicine by watching the trailer for  “Our Last Refuge,” a film that highlights the decades-long struggle of the Blackfeet Tribe to protect an area central to their identity.