Montana Sen. Jon Tester has now introduced the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act to safeguard a critical piece of wild country on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. This is a historic moment in the decades-long effort to protect this unique landscape from oil and gas development and Montanans should come together to support Senator’s Tester’s bill.
The Badger-Two Medicine is one of the wildest, most rugged landscapes in America where grizzlies roam the hillsides, elk ramble through the valleys, pure cutthroat trout swim in its streams and mountain goats stand sentinel high in its mountains. In addition to its importance for wildlife, the Badger has enormous cultural significance for the Blackfeet Tribe, whose members have gone to the its mountains for generations to practice religious ceremonies, gather medicine and conduct other cultural practices.
Because of its importance to the Blackfeet, the Badger-Two Medicine was part of the original Blackfeet Reservation but under pressure from gold and copper miners the federal government forced the Tribe to cede this sacred area in 1895 and it ultimately became national forest land. Today, despite its importance to the Blackfeet and its value as wildlife habitat, the Badger-Two Medicine is the only part of the Rocky Mountain Front that still isn’t legislatively protected.
Without congressional protection, the Badger-Two Medicine was leased to oil and gas companies and speculators in the 1980s and tribal leaders and conservationists have fought to protect the Badger from development for the last 40 years. Earlier this year the last federal oil and gas leases were finally terminated, opening the way for Congress, led by Sen. Tester, to act.
Under Sen. Tester’s bill, the Forest Service would manage the Badger as a protected roadless area where only activities that would destroy these qualities – and the area’s cultural values – would be prohibited. While new road building, mining and oil and gas development would be excluded, the Badger would still be public land open for use by every American.
But the bill also recognizes the importance of the Badger-Two Medicine to the Blackfeet people by designating a cultural heritage area and requiring regular consultation between the Blackfeet and Forest Service. The legislation also requires the Forest Service to develop a cooperative agreement with the tribe to share administrative or management activities, including public education regarding the cultural significance of the area, trail maintenance, wildlife habitat improvements, and cultural resource protection.
In addition to the added input from the Blackfeet, Sen. Tester’s bill will also establish a citizens advisory committee to help the Forest Service create and implement a management plan. The committee would consist of diverse stakeholders that would include both tribal and non-tribal members representing the many interests with a stake in how the Badger-Two Medicine is managed. Ultimately, even with the citizen advisory committee and the greater input from the Blackfeet, the Forest Service will retain final decision-making authority, but their decisions would be better informed, more broadly supported and more just.
Sen. Tester’s Badger-Two Medicine bill needs to be acted on by Congress. It is a win/win scenario across the board – for the Blackfeet, hunters, anglers, backpackers, ranchers and Montana’s fish and wildlife resources. Please contact Sen. Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte and ask them to join Sen. Tester in protecting one of the best places in the Last Best Place that is Montana.
Frank Szollosi is the executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation and Tom France is the regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation.