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Conservation gains in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine

In December, a cheer heard across North America rose from the heart of the Crown of the Continent in Montana.

In December, a cheer heard across North America rose from the heart of the Crown of the Continent in Montana.

The reason for celebration? Badger-Two Medicine land being free of the threat of oil and gas drilling for the first time in more than 30 years.

This 130,000-acre (52,609-hectare) area located in northern Montana is hugged by Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. It is central to the cultural and spiritual identity of the Blackfeet, and is the place origin of their Sundance and creation stories.

Map courtesy Montana Wilderness Association 

From a conservation perspective, it’s important for wildlife connectivity as grizzly bears, elk, bighorn sheep and wolves call it home. It is also an headwaters region, with Badger Creek and the South Fork Two Medicine River feeding the Blackfeet Nation and the Missouri River system. Such headwaters act as sponges when healthy and absorb water releasing to slowly so downstream users — wildlife and humans alike — have more water during drier times of the year.

Working together with partners in conservation including Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, Earth Justice, Y2Y and many others, the Blackfeet worked to defend their land.

Recently the U.S. federal government determined that leases awarded in 1981 were illegally sold to companies wishing to drill in the area. At the time, federal land managers failed to consider the environmental impacts of drilling or consult with tribes such as the Blackfeet.

In 2015, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation declared the Badger-Two Medicine a Traditional Cultural Area. Then, in a series of announcements late in 2016 and early in 2017, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stated the remaining 17 leases on Blackfeet Nation had been canceled. Devon Corporation, the largest leaseholder in the region, voluntarily surrendered their leases. (Three cheers for Devon Corp.!)

Following the news, Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes said, “Today the Blackfeet People have reason to rejoice. This fight has been about more that the Blackfeet. All of Montana and our country wins. This pristine area so special to us and special to all who fight (this battle).”

As an example of appropriate development, Barnes says the tribe has never been opposed to development or drilling on their land outright, just in special places such as the Badger-Two Medicine area.

Looking ahead, partners hold out hope that the area will gain higher level permanent protection, and that bison, an animal currently missing from Badger-Two Medicine, may be restored to the area.

This story originally appeared in our February 2017 Connections newsletter. Subscribe to get more news like this delivered right to your inbox.