Badger-Two Medicine: Too sacred to drill

Badger-Two Medicine (MT).

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has announced cancellation of the Solenex lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front.

"Today's decision is a turning point in the decades-long fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana." said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. "The Interior Department recognizes that the Badger is simply too sacred and too wild to drill. The cultural heart of the Blackfeet Nation deserves protection and respect."

After 30 years of heated debate, the federal government has cancelled the Solenex lease located in the heart of the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Rocky Mountain Front. This action sends a message that Badger-Two Medicine is not an appropriate location for drilling activities, and sets the stage for getting rid of the remaining illegal leases.

Flanked by Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine 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. 

Since last November, the federal government has taken a closer look at the validity of the oil and gas leasing in Badger-Two Medicine after Solenex challenged the suspension of their lease. It was discovered that the leases were illegal, as the Blackfeet Tribe was never consulted and the environmental impacts were not assessed. 

Today's decision is a great step forward for conservation, as the Department of the Interior acted upon its moral obligation to invalidate a lease that has threatened the sacred Badger-Two Medicine for decades.

Badger-Two Medicine’s complex conservation history

In 1981, the Department of the Interior under the Reagan administration began issuing oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine without full environmental review and consulting the Blackfeet people, violating laws that require they do so.

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 halt federal energy leasing.

The story in Badger-Two Medicine is different, more complex, and still being told.

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.

This fall, 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 advised that Interior officials should cancel the leases. Today's lease cancellation sets the stage for the cancellation of all remaining leases in this sacred region.

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.

Today many more voices have joined the chorus calling for lease cancelation, 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.

The decision by Secretary Jewell is welcomed by all. Now we must  continue to work together to make sure that the remaining leases are finally canceled, once and for all.