Oil

Interior cancels oil and gas leases in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine

The Blackfeet Tribe fought for this decision for more than 30 years.

 

This morning, as John Murray drove north from his home on the Badger-Two Medicine River to his job as the historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, the mountains glowed red. His wife, who drove with him, commented on their beauty. Murray, 69, noted with deep satisfaction, that for the first time in more than 30 years, there are no more oil and gas leases up there.

For thousands of years, the area was home to the Blackfeet and Murray has spent decades fighting a collection of oil and gas leases sold for $1 an acre by the Reagan administration without consulting the tribe. On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cancelled the last two leases in the area known as Badger-Two Medicine, which now is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Two Medicine Lake.
Jacob W. Frank/NPS

“The cancellation of the final two leases in the rich cultural and natural Badger-Two Medicine Area will ensure it is protected for future generations,” Jewell said in a statement.

The landscape just outside of Glacier National Park where the prairies meet the mountains is sacred to the Blackfeet. “This area is like a church to our people,” Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Business Council, said in a statement. “We’ve lived for 30 years under the threat that it might be industrialized, and we’re extremely grateful that this cloud is finally lifted.”

Anthropological studies have found hundreds of artifacts in the area but it’s the landscape itself that is most treasured by the Blackfeet, Murray says. That landscape also is extremely important to conservation groups because it provides crucial habitat for grizzlies, mountain lions, big horn sheep, mountain goat and the other fauna that roam between Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Reservation. Hunting and fishing groups laud the area as unmatched for elk hunting and wild trout fishing. But conservationists who worked to preserve it say it was the Blackfeet that swayed the Interior Department to cancel the leases.

The decision comes as the Obama Administration has sided with tribes in other recent decisions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers early last month suspended an easement necessary to finish the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, pending a deeper environmental assessment and consultation with the tribe. On Dec. 28, President Obama created two national monuments after intense campaigns by Native Americans: Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada.

The hard-fought victory for Badger-Two Medicine comes at a time Murray sees as a renaissance for the Blackfeet people. The tribe also negotiated an important water settlement with state government, which Congress finally approved last month.

Now that the leases have been cancelled, the tribe is looking forward. “Our next move is to be more proactive in what happens in the Badger-Two Medicine,” Murray says. Specifically, the tribe is advocating for the Lewis and Clark National Forest to stop allowing cattle grazing and instead reintroduce buffalo.

In November, Interior announced that Devon Energy had agreed to the cancellation of its 15 leases in the Badger-Two Medicine region. But another company, Solonex LLC is fighting the earlier cancellation of its lease in the same area. That dispute, which is currently in front of a federal court, tempered the celebration of the Blackfeet’s long-awaited victory.

Michael Jamison, Glacier program manager for the National Park Conservation Association, first protested the leases as a college student some 30 years ago. Through the years, he has learned from Blackfeet elders why the landscape is so important to them.

“Their future success as a people is rooted in hanging on to who they are culturally,” Jamison said. “They need something firm underfoot if they’re going to succeed in stepping into the future.”

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes HCN’s DC Dispatches from Washington.  

High Country News Classifieds
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR AND BOOKKEEPER
    Posted: July 19, 2021 Application deadline: August 27 or until position is filled. Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking a fulltime Office Administrator...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Posted: July 15, 2021 Application deadline: August 21, 2021 or until position is filled Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action is seeking three full time...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT EDITOR
    High Country News (HCN) seeks an audience editor to attract and acquire new audiences and deepen engagement with them - in our newsletters, on our...
  • COMMUNITY MARKETER
    High Country News (HCN) is looking for a Community Marketer to build and strengthen relationships between HCN and other organizations and individuals, with the aim...
  • FINANCE & OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Job Announcement: Finance and Operations Manager Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Job Announcement: Development Director Announcement date: July 16, 2021 Applications will be reviewed on an ongoing basis and first review will begin: August 9, 2021...
  • HECHO POLICY AND ADVOCACY MANAGER
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • HECHO NEW MEXICO SENIOR FIELD COORDINATOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • IDAHO STATE DIRECTOR
    The Wilderness Society is seeking a full time Idaho State Director who will preferably be based in Boise, Idaho. This position is part of our...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is dedicated to saving the lands and waters on which all life depends. For more than 30 years, TNC has...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, CLIMATE AND ENERGY PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-climate-energy-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Climate and Energy Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Climate and Energy Program Director Location: Helena, Montana; other...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, WILDLANDS AND WILDLIFE PROGRAM
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING https://westernlaw.org/career-opportunity-wildlands-staff-attorney/ ************************************************** Position Title: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Staff Attorney Reports to: Wildlands and Wildlife Program Director Location: Portland or Eugene,...
  • DISCOUNT SOLAR PANELS
    New w/25 year warranty. Shipped anywhere in the lower 48. Minimum order of 10 units. Call, text or email for current prices. .50-.80/ watt
  • SWEET MOUNTAIN HOME
    3.8 acres in pine and fir forest on a year round creek. Custom home, 2x6 framing, radiant heat, wrap around decks and established berry patch....
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!