Badger-Two Medicine Area
Located in the Lewis and Clark National Forest within the Rocky Mountain Front (the Front) in northwestern Montana, the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area is a dramatic landscape where plains, mountains, and rivers meet. Approximately 93,000 acres are currently recognized eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) as a traditional cultural district (TCD), but proponents continue to lobby to have the entire Badger-Two Medicine area recognized as an eligible TCD. The modern Blackfeet Reservation is adjacent to the National Forest, and the Blackfeet Nation views the Badger-Two Medicine area as a sacred place of culturally important spirits, heroes and historic figures central to their religion and traditional lifeways. For example, the Blackfeet believe that the Sweet Grass Hills—located within Badger-Two Medicine—were made by the Creator out of rocks left over from the Rocky Mountains, and teenage boys undertake vision quests in the area.
Over the years, the Blackfeet have battled to protect Badger-Two Medicine, by keeping the area roadless and by fighting proposed oil and gas drilling all along the Front, which is managed largely by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Blackfeet have been assisted by conservation groups, preservationists—including the National Trust for Historic Preservation (National Trust)—outdoor sportsmen, ranchers and business owners. Together these groups have successfully lobbied Congress to change U.S. policy on energy leases in protected areas so that Native American spiritual practices and sacred lands are not impacted.
The threat of energy development reached a tipping point in the 1980s when two large corporations acquired oil and gas leases to approximately two-thirds of the Badger-Two Medicine area. In response to heavy public opposition and litigation, the corporations sold their leases to several smaller companies. The new owners sought permission to drill despite the controversy surrounding these leases. Fortunately, however, the U.S. Department of the Interior stepped in and suspended the leases until a cultural resources inventory could be completed. Then, in 1997, the USFS prohibited new oil and gas leases on National Forest lands along the Front—including Badger-Two Medicine—for 10 years. In spite of this moratorium, beginning in 2002, the BLM spent several years investigating the possibility of oil and gas drilling on its own lands within the Front.
In 2002-2003, the National Trust was a consulting party, pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, in the review of an individual leaseholder's application for a permit to drill on one of two existing lease areas in Badger-Two Medicine. At that time, the proposed drilling area was roughly two miles north of the TCD, which had been determined eligible for listing by the Keeper of the NRHP in 2002. However, the Blackfeet Nation—with support from the National Trust and other non-profit organizations—argued that, as part of the Section 106 process, the USFS should reevaluate the extent of the area determined eligible as a TCD. The USFS then collected additional information and determined that the TCD should encompass areas farther north, including the proposed drilling site. In 2006, Blackfeet Community College completed a cultural resources inventory of the remainder of Badger-Two Medicine and recommended that the eligible TCD be expanded to include the entire area.
That same year, Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) drafted a bill that made the 1997 USFS moratorium on new oil and gas leases permanent. The bill also offered tax incentives to companies that would sell their oil and gas leases to non-profit coalitions, thereby facilitating the retirement of existing leases without huge financial losses by the holding companies. Baucus' bill was passed along with the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006. This bill, together with the expansion of the TCD and other permitting roadblocks, eventually led the leaseholder to abandon the proposed drilling project.
While some long-standing leases remain in the Badger-Two Medicine area, many older leases have been retired, and this positive trend continues. The Blackfeet and various conservation groups continue to work on agreements to take leases out of circulation and to protect roadless areas from motorized recreation vehicles (adapted from http://www.sacredland.org/index.php/badger-two-medicine/). In March 2009, the USFS banned motorized travel on 186 miles of trails in the Badger-Two Medicine area as part of their travel plan for the Lewis and Clark National Forest. Their reasons included protecting wildlife habitats and lands of cultural significance to the Blackfeet. Although 21 people appealed the decision because of their desire for more motorized use of the area, the deputy regional forester reviewed and upheld the decision, clearing the way to begin implementing the new travel plan in early October 2009 (http://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20090901/NEWS01/909010310/-1/PHOTOGALLERIES/Badger-Two-Medicine-travel-plan-to-take-effect-Oct.-1).
For more information visit http://www.savethefront.org/