Blackfeet propose permanent protections for Badger Two Medicine

by Chris Peterson
Editor | June 25, 2020 10:10 AM

The Blackfeet Tribe Thursday announced draft federal legislation that will permanently protect the 130,000 acre Badger Two Medicine Region just south of Glacier National Park near Marias Pass.

The proposed Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act was drafted in partnership with Blackfeet leaders, non-tribal neighbors, hunters, anglers, conservationists, ranchers, local landowners and many others.

In most ways, the proposal simply “keeps things the way they are,” proponents said in a release.

It builds on existing protections, such as the area’s Traditional Cultural District designation, and is modeled on legislation already enacted in other places. The proposal guarantees continued public access for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, horse packing and other traditional uses. It also keeps grazing rights intact on the land, proponents say.

The Badger-Two Medicine is a land of rolling hills, steep canyons and great wildlife diversity. The streams hold some of the last pure strains of native westslope cutthroat trout east of the divide. The hills are home to grizzly bears, a large elk herd, wolverines, lynx and other rare species.

For decades it has been threatened by oil and gas development, but a recent federal appeals court ruling upheld an Obama Administration move to cancel the last remaining lease held by the Solonex Corp.

The land is considered sacred ground by the Blackfeet Tribe.

“We’ve been working on this for many years, with partners from all across the state,” John Murray, Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer said in a release. “The future of our traditional homeland has been uncertain for too long. It’s time to protect the Badger-Two Medicine once and for all.”

The draft bill would continue to allow for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational uses, but it will prohibit new or temporary roads; the use of motorized or mechanical vehicles except in emergencies and commercial timber harvest; though it does allow for forest management in the event of a wildfire.

The Act would also prohibit “water resource facilities” such as dams.

In addition, it would allow temporary closure of areas for tribal ceremonies.

The Act would temporarily “...close to the general public use of one or more specific portions of the Cultural Heritage Area in order to protect the privacy of traditional cultural activities in such areas by members of the Tribe. Any such closure shall be made to affect the smallest practicable area for the minimum period of time necessary for such purposes.”

In addition to protecting traditional uses, the “Cultural Heritage Area” designation guarantees existing treaty rights will be honored, and establishes formal Tribal consultation with the U.S. Forest Service to contribute to future management decisions. The bill also provides the Blackfeet Nation an opportunity to conduct trail maintenance and other contracted forest work, tribal officials said.

“There are important voices that for too long have not been heard,” Murray said, noting that during the recent legal proceedings there were no Blackfeet judges or attorneys in the courtroom. “We have been refused a seat at our own table, and people across the country have been making decisions about our most sacred ancestral lands. This proposal provides us a voice in the discussion.”

The Act would also create a nine-member advisory council to oversee management of the land. The law requires that it be a diverse group, with tribal representation.

The Badger Two Medicine has seen some protections in the past. In 2006, legislation passed by then Sen. Max Baucus banned any future oil and gas leases along the Rocky Mountain Front and the Badger Two Medicine. A travel plan done administratively by the Forest Service about 11 years ago banned motorized use in both winter and summer, though the area still has about nine miles of open roads.

An aide to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. said the senator would be taking a close look at the legislation in the coming days.

“Jon supports permanently protecting the Badger-Two Medicine and will be reviewing this legislation,” the aide said.

Tester has sponsored numerous conservation measures in the past, including a bill that further protected the Rocky Mountain Front and added about 70,000 acres to the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.