In a move celebrated by groups ranging from the Blackfoot Nation and Montana Hunters and Anglers to the National Parks Conservation Association and U.S. Sen. Jon Testor, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has canceled the final two oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area within the Lewis and Clark National Forest in northwest Montana. The two lease cancellations address outstanding concerns about the potential for oil and gas development in this culturally and ecologically important area.
“We are proud to have worked alongside the Blackfeet Nation and the U.S. Forest Service throughout this process to roll back decades-old leases and reinforce the importance of developing resources in the right way and the right places,” Interior Secretary Jewell said Tuesday in announcing the move. “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.”
The BLM notified J.G. Kluthe Trust of Nebraska and W.A. Moncrief Jr. of Texas of the cancellations of the final two leases in the area. The lease cancellations occur after 30 years of administrative, legal and legislative actions and reflect the historical and cultural significance of the area to the Blackfeet Tribe and concerns regarding leasing issuance.
“The Badger-Two Medicine is a powerful cultural region,” said Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Business Council. “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. This area is like a church to our people, and retiring the last of the leases is a tremendous step toward permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine.”
The Badger-Two Medicine is a 130,000-acre area, bounded by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. This portion of the Rocky Mountain Front is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe, and is part of a Traditional Cultural District. These characteristics caused Congress to legislatively withdraw the area from mineral development in 2006.
“Today’s lease retirements are the culmination of a long-fought battle to protect cultural values and wildlife-rich lands at the doorstep of Glacier National Park. The Interior Department’s decision reflects the work of so many, and exemplifies wisdom and leadership by the Blackfeet Nation and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell," said NPCA President and CEO Theresa Pierno. "All those who find inspiration, recreation and solitude in this irreplaceable landscape will benefit greatly from this decision. NPCA also commends the leaseholders who voluntarily relinquished their leases over the years, choosing to be good stewards of these irreplaceable wildlands, for the sake of the Blackfeet Nation, all visitors to this remarkable landscape and the wildlife that roam there."
The leases being canceled today were issued in the 1980s and have not had any drilling in the area since issuance. According to the Blackfeet Nation, "these U.S. Forest Service lands – located adjacent to Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation -- were leased illegally without Tribal consultation and without assessment of environmental or cultural impacts. In the years that followed, many companies voluntarily relinquished their holdings in the area, citing the region’s profound natural and cultural heritage.
"Companies that remained were offered tax credits, sunk costs, cash purchases, alternative lease offers, and even existing wells located elsewhere on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. A few, however, declined compensation and insisted on drilling in the sacred lands."
The cancellation respects recommendations by the U.S. Forest Service, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and concerns expressed by the Blackfeet Tribe and interested members of the public. In 2016, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the cancellation of 16 leases in the area. The leases were held by Solonex LLC and Devon Energy.