Retired Forest Service Leaders Urge Lease Cancellation in Badger-Two Medicine

Nineteen former agency officials recommend cancellation in letter to Interior Department

By Tristan Scott
The Badger-Two Medicine area near the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park. Beacon file photo

A slate of former U.S. Forest Service leaders this week joined a growing bloc of supporters calling for the cancellation of energy leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack received a letter from 19 former U.S. Forest Service leaders recommending that all oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine be cancelled.

In the letter, the former land managers encouraged the agencies to cancel the leases, and collectively aligned with the recommendation of an independent federal agency that oversees the preservation of historic places, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), which last month said energy exploration on the Badger-Two Medicine would degrade the region’s cultural values, and that no amount of mitigation could lessen the damage.

The leases are on land considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe. The entire 165,588-acre area encompasses lands within the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, Lewis and Clark National Forest and Flathead National Forest, and is listed as a Traditional Cultural District under the National Historic Preservation Act.

The letter’s signers include former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora and retired Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth.

They wrote that they agree with the ACHP’s assessment that the area’s cultural significance precludes its viability for oil and gas drilling.

“Those recommendations were unequivocal: it is not possible to mitigate impacts of allowing gas exploration and development in the Badger-Two Medicine,” the letter states. “They are correct. We feel compelled to add our insights and experience from our combined hundreds of years of direct field experience with indigenous peoples, traditional uses, sacred lands, ecosystems and sense of place in the context of proposed developments.”

Also joining the Blackfeet in opposing industrialization of the Badger-Two Medicine are the National Congress of American Indians, 18 other tribes from western states, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Steve Bullock, all three Glacier County Commissioners, former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, and six former Glacier Park superintendents.

The leases in contention are held by Sidney Longwell, of the Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, which has sued the federal government in an effort to lift the suspension and begin drilling on the oil and gas leases it acquired in 1982.

Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association, said legal challenges and congressional suspensions have waylaid development for more than two decades, unfairly burdening Longwell and Solenex, which legally acquired the application for a permit to drill.

“Stripping a man, who’s followed every letter of the law for more than thirty years, of his legal rights, that is an intolerable assault. And someone has got to see through the smoke and mirrors to stand with him in his fight,” Galt stated in a recent letter.

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