Blackfeet not happy with fed’s scale-back of lease appeals

April 5, 2019

While the U.S. Department of Interior this week dropped its appeal of one of two oil and gas drilling leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park, Blackfeet tribal officials and intervenors in the case say the action doesn’t go far enough in defending tribal sacred lands.

The Interior Department filed paperwork in federal court on Thursday to dismiss its appeal against Moncrief Oil, but is pursuing its appeal against Solenex LLC. The leases are located in the Badger-Two Medicine, a 130,000-acre area along the Rocky Mountain Front.

The leases have been embroiled in controversy and litigation for years. In 2016 and 2017 the Interior Department canceled the leases, but a federal judge overturned those decisions in two separate actions last year.

“Unfortunately, DOI’s court filings do not defend the Badger-Two Medicine against all threats,” Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Timothy Davis said in a press release.

Davis said since the early 1980s when the leases were “issued illegally” in the sacred area, “nearly all leaseholders have voluntarily relinquished their holdings, saying it is ‘the right thing to do.’ These last two companies - Solenex and Moncrief - have alone persisted in their attempts to industrialize Blackfeet cultural homelands.”

Intervenors agreed with the tribe, saying in a press release that the Interior Department’s “failure to defend the Badger-Two Medicine from leases leaves the area vulnerable to industrial development.

“As intervenors we remain committed to standing together to represent the interests of all Montanans, and we will use every resource available to negotiate a solution that protects the Badger-Two Medicine in perpetuity,” their press release state.

Intervenors include environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, which represents the Pikuni Traditionalist Association and several other organizations.

Davis pointed out that last year then-Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke proposed Badger-Two Medicine for permanent protection as a national monument.

“Zinke also assured the Blackfeet Nation that DOI would defend Blackfeet culture and lands from all threat of industrialization,” Davis said.

“The refusal of the Interior Department to defend Badger-Two Medicine from the Moncrief claim - and to defend the government’s own legal right to manage the lease - leaves our most sacred lands vulnerable,” Davis said. “The explicit promise of the U.S. government to the Blackfeet people ... has been broken.”

Davis said the tribe expects the government to seek options outside the courts in protecting the sacred area. He pointed out that in the past, the federal government has offered Badger-Two Medicine leaseholders special tax credits and other incentives to relinquish holdings in sacred areas.

“More recently, the Blackfeet Nation has made direct offers to Moncrief Oil for land and lease exchanges elsewhere on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation,” Davis noted.

Davis reiterated the Blackfeet’s resolve, calling the court filings “just one step in a very long journey.

“The Blackfeet Nation is both patient and persistent,” he said. “Our culture has been rooted in these lands since time immemorial, and we are confident that the Badger-Two Medicine will be permanently protected.”

News Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.