Ruling Gives Sacred Montana Tribal Lands Back to Industry

Sep 25, 2018

Ruling gives these lands to the oil and gas industry.

Copyright Tony Bynum/

The Wilderness Society responded today to the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to reverse a cancellation of two decades-old oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front region. The Badger-Two Medicine is a federally-recognized Traditional Cultural District of the Blackfeet Nation, encompassing 165,588 acres adjacent to Glacier National Park.

The following statement is from Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society:

“The Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front is sacred to the Blackfeet Nation, which has reserved rights to these public lands. Adjacent to Glacier National Park, it is also one of the region’s most beautiful and wild places. Over thirty years ago, much of this area was leased over the objections of the Blackfeet Nation, conservationists, hunters, and local communities.  It was wrong and illegal then to lease the area and the federal government was right to cancel and refund the lease fees to the oil and gas companies. All the major companies who had leases here, including Devon Energy, have supported the cancellations as ‘the right thing to do.’ The two leaseholders who filed these lawsuits are extreme outliers who have repeatedly rejected reasonable offers to find alternative and more appropriate sites for development.  We will stand with the Blackfeet and continue the fight to protect the Badger-Two Medicine because it is a place too wild, and too sacred, to drill; now is the time to right a wrong and The Wilderness Society is prepared to meet the challenge, supported by Americans across the country.”



Culture and wildlands converge in the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest in northwestern Montana.  For the Blackfeet Nation, the Badger-Two Medicine is considered the cradle of their culture, home of their creation story and the sacred Sun Dance that links millennia of history and culture with current and future generations. The Blackfeet Tribe is joined by 12 other tribes from Montana, Wyoming and Canada as well as the National Congress of American Indians in opposing drilling in the sacred Badger-Two Medicine. 

The Badger-Two Medicine is also unparalleled wildlife habitat that connects migration paths between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, as well as critical sanctuary for plants and wildlife such elk, wolves, and grizzly bears.

Despite being so culturally and ecologically important, in the 1980s most of the area was leased for oil and gas drilling, in violation of bedrock environmental laws and without consultation with the Blackfeet Nation. From the moment of leasing, the decision has been mired in controversy and legal battles.

The Blackfeet Nation has opposed industrialization of the Badger-Two Medicine ever since the area was targeted for development.  The Wilderness Society, other conservation partners, local politicians, hunters, and citizens from across Montana have waged a decades long battle to protect this incredible place.  In November 2016, the largest leaseholder in the Badger Two Medicine, Devon Energy, agreed to voluntarily have its leases cancelled with its CEO stating, “We know how important this cancellation is to the Blackfeet people, and we appreciate the work the Interior Department has done to make it possible. For Devon, cancellation of these leases at this time is simply the right thing to do.”(11/16/2016 DOI press release). During the 2016-early 2017 period, the Federal Government cancelled the final two leases in the Badger-Two Medicine.  Those cancellations followed recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, local county commission, and others. For the first time in over thirty years the Badger-Two Medicine was free from the threat of oil and gas exploration and development.  Unfortunately, Federal District Judge Richard Leon has now ruled to reverse the decision and to reinstate the two leases located in the heart of the Badger-Two Medicine. 

The Wilderness Society and a diverse coalition including Blackfeet Traditionalists and local groups are considering their legal options and will do everything in their power to ensure that roadbuilding and drilling never occur in this wild and sacred public land. Because all of the leases in the Badger-Two Medicine have been under suspension, they have never been developed and the area remains undisturbed.


Peter Aengst, Senior Regional Director - Northern Rockies and Alaska