Groups seek to prevent development of problematic drilling lease south of Glacier NP
On Thursday, the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, based in Browning, and the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, headquartered in East Glacier, applied for intervenor status in U.S. District Court to oppose a challenge brought by Solenex LLC, a company seeking to develop a 6,200-acre federal oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine region. The Badger-Two Medicine is a wild and undeveloped area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest located between Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. This landscape is also considered sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe.
The groups will be represented by the non-profit, public-interest environmental law firm, Earthjustice, in collaboration with three conservation organizations.
Kendall Flint, a Browning physician from East Glacier and president of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance says he is not surprised so many are lining up to defend “the Badger”.
“Any way you look at it, the Badger is important to a large cross-section of Montanans, locally and throughout the region,” said Flint. “Whether they hike there, hunt it or fish it, enjoy it with their families, use it for traditional cultural purposes, or just admire it out their windows every day. Montanans seem hungry for a solution here. We see our involvement in this suit as a critical step to protecting an area that is well-loved by so many people in Montana.”
Interest in finding a long-term solution to the contested lease has grown since Solenex LLC rekindled intentions to develop the lease area this summer. Earlier this month, Blackfeet troubadour Jack Gladstone invited the top executive of the company to visit Montana and discuss the possibility of buy-out or trade-out options for the entire 6,200-acre lease site.
According to Gladstone, he remains hopeful that a buy-out or trade-out conversation can take place in the future, but in the meantime is preparing to defend the area through participation in the lawsuit alongside the grassroots organization, Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance.
“By inviting Mr. Longwell to the Rocky Mountain Front, I extended an olive branch similar to the one held by the American Eagle, featured on the U.S. dollar. Unfortunately, I have received no response and we are now responding to his legal challenge by unleashing the contents of the other talon,” said Gladstone. “I would still prefer a diplomatic resolution to our dispute, not a legal battle, but now it becomes necessary to fight for the natural and cultural integrity of the Badger-Two Medicine. Mr. Longwell will learn, as others have, that Blackfeet are excellent warriors.”
The stakes are high, given that “the Badger” is regarded as “holy land” by traditional Blackfeet who have consistently opposed energy development throughout the 130,000-acre wildlands. That opposition was codified through a 2004 Blackfoot Confederacy proclamation stating the tribe “will not consent and will not approve any energy development within the Badger-Two Medicine and will vigorously oppose any proposals for such development.”
Biologically, this area is the last remaining stronghold along the Rocky Mountain Front for genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout. These wildlands also harbor key winter and summer range for over 800 elk and is critical secure habitat for grizzly bears.
The lease, located near Hall Creek, was issued thirty years ago over the objections of Blackfeet tribal members, wildlife biologists, hunters, and Montanans from across the state.
While the majority of “the Badger” was leased in the 1980’s, most of these leases have since been voluntarily relinquished by companies and leaseholders who have taken full advantage of legislation originally proposed by former Senator Conrad Burns and ultimately passed by Senator Max Baucus in 2006.
Hugo Johnson, a rancher near St. Mary has been hunting and outfitting in the Hall Creek area since 1956 and continues to take his grandchildren there every year on horseback. He says the pattern of retiring leases in the “Badger” needs to continue in Hall Creek lease because there are far less sensitive areas to drill.
“An oil and gas play here just isn’t neighborly and won’t be in the best interest of our families’ existing uses, like hunting and outfitting,” Johnson said. “Oil and gas companies have already shown they can work with us to avert unnecessary conflict and I think we should do it again in Hall Creek.”
The National Parks Conservation Association, Montana Wilderness Association, and The Wilderness Society have also filed for intervener status in this lawsuit.
“Whether you are a hunter, a hiker, or a grizzly bear, the Badger-Two Medicine region is too valuable to sacrifice to oil and gas speculation,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the groups seeking to intervene in the case. “We intend to make sure that the court hears from those who care about protecting the natural and cultural integrity of this special place, and not just from those who wish to develop it.”