Today, the Pikuni Traditionalist Association (PTA), representing the cultural and religious interests of members of the Blackfeet Nation, appealed a recent court ruling that reinstated a federal oil and gas lease in the Blackfeet spiritual homeland — the Badger-Two Medicine region. The appeal, filed in Washington, D.C., seeks to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from the threat posed by an oil and gas lease that was illegally issued in the 1980s to a Louisiana-based company.
The company, Solenex LLC, seeks to build a well pad, a road, and temporary bridges into the heart of this roadless country. The Badger-Two Medicine is part of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest, and an important wildlife corridor between the adjacent Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Nation, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. The lease was under suspension for decades and ultimately was canceled in 2016 on the basis that it was issued illegally, but was reinstated by a Washington, D.C., District Court in a September ruling.
PTA member and state representative Tyson Running-Wolf notes, “The Blackfoot Confederacy, the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents tribes across the Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and the National Congress of American Indians, are all standing together with the Blackfeet Nation. We will never cede sacred ground to those who would defile it. And it’s not just about Indian Country, for decades now, Republican and Democratic administrations have supported a lease-free Badger because the place is important to all the people of Montana.”
Joining the PTA in appealing the lease reinstatement is a coalition of conservation groups — Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, Glacier Two Medicine Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society and Wild Montana — that collectively represent thousands of Montanans who value the Badger-Two Medicine as a place of refuge, and actively use the area for hunting, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding. The groups intervened in the Solenex case to defend the Badger-Two Medicine region. A statewide poll in 2020 showed that nearly 80% of Montanans support stronger protections for the landscape.
Tim Preso, Earthjustice attorney representing the intervenors stated, “The Solenex lease was illegally issued and we believe the court decision that reinstated it was wrongly decided. We will continue to advocate for this wild and sacred landscape until the last threat to its integrity is removed.”
Over the years, a number of steps have been taken to eliminate leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area and protect the area’s cultural value and renowned fish and wildlife habitat. Notably in 2006, Congress passed bipartisan legislation to permanently prohibit future leasing as well as to incentivize the relinquishment of existing leases. Nearly every other leaseholder subsequently relinquished their leases voluntarily in recognition that drilling in the area was culturally unacceptable and economically unfeasible. The entire Badger-Two Medicine area has been designated a Traditional Cultural District and closed to motorized recreation. Solenex has declined offers to extinguish its lease.
Peter Metcalf, executive director for Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance noted that, “Drilling in prime grizzly bear and elk habitat and within a Traditional Cultural District makes no sense morally, environmentally, or economically and never will. Just as we helped other leaseholders reach retirement solutions that kept the land and their companies whole, we remain committed to exploring reasonable settlement options with Solenex.”
The Badger-Two Medicine area encompasses 165,588 acres along Montana’s famed Rocky Mountain Front. The Blackfeet Nation considers the Badger-Two Medicine sacred and it is home to many of the tribe’s traditional foods and medicines as well as many Blackfeet creation stories.
The Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, National Congress of American Indians, Glacier County Commissioners, retired Glacier National Park superintendents, retired U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management leadership all opposed the drilling proposals in the Badger-Two Medicine. Agencies including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior have recommended all Badger-Two Medicine leases be canceled.
The history of longstanding opposition to oil and gas development in the Badger-Two Medicine area dates back nearly 50 years to when the Blackfeet Nation officially declared the region sacred and said that “disturbance of said Sacred Ground without consent of said Council shall not be allowed hereafter.” This formal position of the Blackfeet Tribe pre-dates the issuance of all energy leases in the area by a full decade, and clearly signaled to both the U.S. government and the leasing companies that industrial development of the land and waters of the Badger-Two Medicine would not be tolerated.
Over the years, the Blackfeet Nation, conservation partners and federal officials have made several attempts to settle the case with Solenex, LLC executives. Offers included tax credits, land exchanges, alternative lease areas, cash buyouts and access to tribal oil and gas fields. To date, Solenex, LLC officials declined all offers, however, choosing instead to litigate in federal court.