The U.S. Department of the Interior and Devon Energy on Nov. 16 announced retirement of more than 32,000 acres of oil and gas leases from the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area.
The move comes on the heels of a lease cancellation by the Department of the Interior and echoes the call by many that the Badger-Two Medicine region — a vital wildland link connecting the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Glacier National Park and an indispensable stronghold of Blackfeet culture — should not be industrialized by roads, bridges and drill rigs.
At a ceremony, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said, “The cancellation of leases that were set many years ago in an area that should never have had leases to begin with. This is the right action to take on behalf of current and future generations.”
“One of the core values that we have is to be a good neighbor. We certainly think this is a great opportunity to demonstrate the fact that we can be a good neighbor in this situation,” added Devon Energy president and CEO Dave Hager.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also spoke at the ceremony. “There are special places in this world where we just shouldn’t drill, and the Badger-Two Medicine is one of those places. This region carries great cultural and historical significance to the Blackfeet Tribe and today’s announcement will ensure that the Badger-Two Medicine will remain pristine for both the Tribe and the folks who love to hunt, hike, and fish near Glacier Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness.”
Conservation groups cheered the announcement.
“It’s incredibly satisfying, after all these decades of conflict and controversy, to see the players negotiating in good faith to find a solution,” said Kendall Flint, president of the local conservation group, Glacier — Two Medicine Alliance. The alliance has long sought retirement of the leases, which were sold for just $1 per acre more than 30 years ago.
The 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest and is bordered by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
The Department of the Interior under Secretary James Watt, appointed by Ronald Reagan, granted the leases in the early 1980s, sparking immediate and prolonged opposition from local residents, conservationists and the Blackfeet Nation.
Other companies also have voluntarily retired more than 110,000 acres of Badger-Two Medicine leases.
Two smaller leases remain, according to the Interior Department. Efforts continue to negotiate their retirement.
Efforts to protect the Badger-Two Medicine wildland also have involved the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council, National Congress of American Indians, Glacier County Commissioners, retired Glacier National Park superintendents, retired U.S. Forest Service and BLM leadership, hunting and angling groups, local ranchers and residents, and even the rock band Pearl Jam.
“This is a landmark moment in the decades-long battle to protect the Badger-Two Medicine region, and future generations will be even more thankful for it than we are today,” said Tim Preso of Earthjustice. “But the fight is not over. We will continue to advocate for this wild, sacred landscape until the last threat to its integrity is removed.”
The 1980s-era leases have long stood in stark contrast to a legacy of conservation throughout Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front region. Beginning with the establishment of Glacier National Park in 1910 and bolstered by creation of the Sun River Game Preserve in 1913, conservation measures have since included: the creation of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1932); Sun River Wildlife Management Area (1948); Bob Marshall Wilderness Area (1964); Scapegoat Wilderness Area (1972); Great Bear Wilderness Area (1978); and passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act (2014).
Within the boundaries of the Badger-Two Medicine roadless area, recent conservation measures include a 2006 congressional ban on any future federal oil/gas leasing and a 2011 prohibition on motorized travel. The entire Badger-Two Medicine region has been designated a “Traditional Cultural District” under the National Historic Preservation Act, in recognition of its importance to Blackfeet tradition and culture.
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.