In March 2000, Environmentalists hailed a ruling by the U.S. District Court supporting the Forest Service decision to not offer new oil and gas leases along Montana's Rocky Mountain Front. Environmental groups intervened on behalf of the government lawsuit filed by the Rocky Mountain Oil & Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America. The court rejected industry's claim that the Forest Service violated a host of laws and the constitution when it heeded the public's call to leave the pristine Rocky Mountain Front free of bulldozers, pipes, natural gas wells, and roads. The Independent Petroleum Association of America appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit, where arguments were heard today.
In court, Earthjustice represented a coalition of Native American, conservation and recreation groups including: the Montana Wilderness Association, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Professional Wilderness Outfitters Association, Back Country Horsemen of Montana, Montana Audubon, National Wildlife Federation, George Engler, and Kaa Mo Tan.
"Fish and Wildlife biologists describe this as among the top one percent of wildlife habitat in the entire nation," said Mark Good of the Montana Wilderness Association.
The lands in question extend from the Canadian border in north-central Montana and border Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat Wilderness Areas. The decision applies to more than 750,000 acres in one of the least disturbed mountain ecosystems in the world. The area is home to more than 300 wildlife species, including such threatened and endangered species as grizzly bear, gray wolf, peregrine falcon, and bald eagle. The area is also home to numerous Native American cultural and religious sites.
Jim Angell, an attorney for Earthjustice, said, "In March of 2000 the federal district court in Montana reaffirmed that the Rocky Mountain Front belongs to all the nation's citizens and that they are not the private fiefdoms of industry as plaintiffs seem to think in this case. The public has a rightful voice in how its lands are managed and the Forest Service should be applauded for heeding the public's demand that the Front's wildlands not be turned into an industrial oil and gas site."