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The Badger-Two Med Battle is over

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | September 6, 2023 2:00 AM

After more than 40 years, the battle is finally over in the fight over oil and gas development in the Badger Two Medicine region of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Blackfeet leaders and conservationists announced that they, along with the federal government, have reached a negotiated agreement with Solenex, LLC to permanently retire the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in the 130,000-acre region just south of Glacier National Park near Marias Pass.

The 6,247-acre lease held by Solenex was one of 47 oil and gas leases originally issued by the Reagan Administration in the Badger-Two Medicine in the early 1980s. With the Sept. 1 settlement agreement, all of these leases in the area have now been permanently eliminated without any development having occurred, ending the threat of drilling in this wild, roadless area once and for all.

The settlement pays the company $2.6 million to relinquish the lease, the Associated Press reported.

The government will pay $2 million and the Wyss Foundation, a charitable group founded by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, will provide the remaining $625,000, according to the AP.

The lease has seen long legal battles over the years, but was never developed. Unlike Glacier just to the north, the Badger Two Medicine is a land of forests and rolling grasslands and hills, punctuated by crystal clear trout streams and a large elk herd.

In the fall of 2022, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon, in a scathing opinion, reinstated the Solonex lease.

He called the government’s actions “Kafkaesque” in its attempts to squash the lease over nearly 40 years.

In his ruling, Leon vacated a 2016 move by then Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to cancel the Solenex lease.

The Solenex Corp. represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, filed suit, claiming Jewell exceeded her authority when she canceled the lease in the waning days of the Obama Administration. Leon, in his Sept. 9, 2022 ruling, found the lease was granted legally and had gone through the proper environmental reviews.

The federal government, the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Pikuni Traditionalist Association, The Wilderness Society, and Wild Montana, represented by Earthjustice, jointly intervened to defend the government’s cancellation decision. The settlement agreement ends the long-running legal dispute before it was about to be reviewed by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. for a second time.

Now that the lease is finally relinquished, the landscape is whole. The Forest Service has expunged motorized use of the area and old all terrain vehicle trails are slowly, but surely, melting into the landscape or have been converted to hiking and horse trails.

“Hearing this great news, my first thoughts were of all those Blackfeet individuals that did not live to see this day,” Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray said. “I am happy to see this oil and gas lease go away in the Badger Two Medicine. We are back to where we were 40 years ago. However, during these 40 years a lot has transpired. Scientific studies have been done by Dr. Maria Zedeno, University of Arizona, proving our occupation of the area well beyond 12,000 years. In 2006, Senator Conrad Burns sponsored a bill in the 109th Congress that was passed that same year which prohibits further oil and gas leasing of federally controlled lands within the Badger Two Medicine. Basically, the area now has permanent protection. I have no hard feelings about this protracted clash of cultures. I’m just relieved it is over. The Badger Two Medicine is significant to the Blackfeet way of life from the past, now and in the future. My heartfelt thanks go out to so many great people involved in this struggle for the last four decades.”

“Visiting the Badger-Two Medicine is an exceptional experience,” said Molly McUsic the president of the Wyss Foundation. “It is a landscape with diverse wildlife and spectacular open spaces, where a person can feel the enormity of our natural world. It is the traditional home, cultural center, and sacred ground of the Blackfeet People. Today is a pivotal moment in righting past wrongs and preserving this land for generations to come. Thanks to the multi-decade fight by the Blackfeet People, we can finally say that these sacred lands will remain exactly how they should – natural, wild, and undeveloped.”