Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday backed President Donald Trump’s decision to pare back four national monuments, but recommended beginning a process to furnish protections on three new national monuments, including the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park.
The Whitefish native, who reviewed a roster of national monuments at the behest of President Donald Trump, supported a plan to scale back two prominent monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante — as well as Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou.
He released his final report summarizing findings of the review on Tuesday.
A host of environmental organizations and Native American tribes have already begun to mount legal challenges to Zinke’s recommendations, while the outdoor gear and apparel company Patagonia, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s monuments review, posted a message on its website Monday night under the headline, “The President Stole Your Land.”
Asked about the message by a reporter during a conference call Tuesdsay, Zinke lambasted the company, as well as the assertion that the monuments review is a thinly veiled subterfuge for a sell off of public land.
“No land, not one square inch of land, has been transferred or sold,” Zinke told reporters on a conference call. “This is not about energy. There is no oil or gas assets. There is no mine within Bears Ears National Monument. The argument that President Trump stole land is nefarious, false and a lie.”
Zinke also recommended beginning a process to consider three new national monuments: The Badger-Two Medicine Area bordering Glacier National Park, as well as Kentucky’s Camp Nelson and the Medgar Evers Home in Mississippi.
Those familiar with the Badger-Two Medicine, and the Blackfeet Nation’s decades-long struggle to protect it from mining, development and natural resource extraction, greeted the news with mixed reactions.
Casey Perkins, Montana Wilderness Association’s Rocky Mountain Front field director, said: “While we appreciate Secretary Zinke recommending national monument protection for the Badger-Two Medicine, we find it reprehensible that he’s doing so at the same time he’s stripping protection from a place that is as sacred to five sovereign southwestern nations as the Badger-Two Medicine is to the Blackfeet. We believe that Badger-Two Medicine deserves permanent protection, but any discussion of that must originate with the Blackfeet.”
In October, Harry Barnes, chairman of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, told the Beacon that while giving the Badger permanent protection is among his top priorities, he’s leery of a federal designation that could trammel the tribe’s sovereign rights.
“Obviously we have been fighting for years to protect the Badger-Two Medicine, but we are somewhat reticent with regards to accepting any federal designation because almost any federal designation will denigrate the rights of the tribe,” Barnes said. “We do have reserved treaty rights in the Badger-Two Medicine area. These are legal rights that give us a certain amount of ownership. We have the right to hunt, fish, gather, collect logs for our homes, raise our herds. Those rights belong to us, and they were reserved for the Blackfeet people. So it could get touchy under a federal designation.”
Zinke suggested a “co-management” plan with the Blackfeet that would assuage tribal leaders’ concerns about losing sovereign rights.
“I think a deal should be made. That particular area is sacred to the Blackfeet, and I would recommend a co-management of that area with the Blackfeet,” Zinke said. “I think getting the kids out bonding with their cultural heritage is great, and I think there’s a really great opportunity as the numbers of crowds continue to break records in Glacier. Here is a virtually untapped area to do it right. It is one of the special places in our country that I think is deserving of monument status.”
The Badger-Two Medicine area encompasses roughly 130,000 acres and is bordered by Glacier National Park, the Bob Marshall Wilderness area and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It is considered a critical ecological corridor as well as the birthplace of Blackfeet creation stories.
The tribe has worked for three decades to cancel a host of energy leases from their sacred homeland, arguing they were illegally issued and compromised the land’s cultural significance.
With that in mind, the Blackfeet welcomed the news last January that the Obama administration had canceled the two remaining oil and gas leases in the area, prompting the company that owned the leases, Solenex LLC, to file a lawsuit against the federal government alleging the cancellation was issued illegally.
Until the lawsuit is resolved, the fate of the Badger-Two Medicine remains uncertain.