Last October, conservationists won a surprise victory for Montana's Rocky Mountain Front when Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora banned new oil and gas leases for the next 10 to 15 years (HCN,10/13/97).
story wasn't over. On Feb. 5, Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., introduced
a bill to permanently ban new oil and gas exploration in the
adjoining Lewis and Clark and Flathead national forests. To
compensate oil and gas companies, the bill offers leaseholders
several options, including bidding credits to acquire off-shore
leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
Baucus says his
bill would end the long-running conflict over leasing in the
Badger-Two Medicine Area of the Lewis and Clark, near Glacier
National Park, an area the Blackfeet regard as
Chevron, a primary lease-holder in the
Badger-Two Medicine, supports the bill. Elsewhere in the Lewis and
Clark National Forest, McMahon-Bullington, the only lease-holder in
the Blackleaf Canyon near the Bob Marshall Wilderness, says it
hasn't made a decision.
surrenders its lease, the only leases remaining in the greater
Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area would be on lands managed by the
Bureau of Land Management.
Just weeks after
Flora's flat "no," however, BLM area manager Richard Hopkins
announced that drilling could begin in the Blackleaf Wildlife
Management Area. The resulting public outcry led Hopkins' superiors
to reverse his decision. The BLM says it is reviewing its oil and
gas leasing policies and philosophy with its neighbors at the Lewis
and Clark National Forest. "In an issue this sensitive," said BLM
spokesman Greg Albright, "exactly how and who in the BLM would sign
off on the leases is not yet known."