Interior cancels oil and gas leases in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine

This week, as John Murray drove north from his home on the Badger-Two Medicine River to his job as the historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, the mountains glowed red. His wife, who drove with him, commented on their beauty. Murray, 69, noted with deep satisfaction, that for the first time in more than 30 years, there are no more oil and gas leases up there.

For thousands of years, the area was home to the Blackfeet and Murray has spent decades fighting a collection of oil and gas leases sold for $1 an acre by the Reagan administration without consulting the tribe. This week Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cancelled the last two leases in the area known as Badger-Two Medicine, which now is part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.

The landscape just outside of Glacier National Park where the prairies meet the mountains is sacred to the Blackfeet. “This area is like a church to our people,” Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Business Council, said in a statement. “We’ve lived for 30 years under the threat that it might be industrialized, and we’re extremely grateful that this cloud is finally lifted.”

Anthropological studies have found hundreds of artifacts in the area but it’s the landscape itself that is most treasured by the Blackfeet, Murray says. That landscape also is extremely important to conservation groups because it provides crucial habitat for grizzlies, mountain lions, big horn sheep, mountain goat and the other fauna that roam between Glacier, the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Blackfeet Reservation. Hunting and fishing groups laud the area as unmatched for elk hunting and wild trout fishing. But conservationists who worked to preserve it say it was the Blackfeet that swayed the Interior Department to cancel the leases.

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