We Work to Protect an Ecologically and Culturally Irreplaceable Landscape
Just south of Glacier National Park, lies the approximately 130,000 acre Badger-Two Medicine area of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Badger is an area of immense beauty and solitude. Serrated limestone crags and high mountain peaks jut into Montana’s Big Sky. Two drainages—Badger Creek and the South Fork of the Two-Medicine River—wind through verdant meadows and valleys before cutting hard and fast through sharp canyons as they escape the mountains for the Plains. Here grizzlies roam in some of the densest numbers found anywhere in the coterminous United States. All manner of wildlife, including rare or sensitive species like golden eagles, wolverines, and Lynx, depend on the Badger. But it’s not just wildlife. The Blackfeet people have used the area for time immemorial. The Badger has, and still continues, to be a place for Blackfeet people to find sustenance, to find refuge, and to undertake various cultural and religious activities. The site of Blackfeet creation stories, this living cultural landscape remains vital to Blackfeet spirituality, culture, and identity today. Because of this, the area is eligible to be designated a Traditional Cultural District. Additionally, many non-Blackfeet people also use the Badger as a place to fish or hunt, for quiet backcountry recreation, or simply as a retreat for quiet contemplation and observation.
Unfortunately, the remarkable values and attributes of this area have been threatened by oil and gas development since the 1980s. While Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance and our partners continue to make progress in ridding the area of oil and gas leases (of the original 51, only 2 remain) a permanent protective designation is still needed. Such designation would ensure industrial development can never threaten this ecologically and culturally important landscape. Furthermore, permanent protection would provide a clear statement of public priorities and guidance for how the area should be managed.
Why Permanently Protect the Badger?
The area’s outstanding and irreplaceable values deserve to be permanently protected in their own right. Such protections are also critical for the ecological integrity and resilience of the wider landscape known as the Crown of the Continent. The Badger forms a critical linkage zone for species moving between the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, the Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier National Park and the adjoining Great Plains. Permanent protection would be a substantial step forward in the long-term effort to protect the Crown.
What is Permanent Protection?
Permanent protection is a categorical term that refers to any of the various modes of administrative or Congressional land management designations that prioritize non-development. For the Badger, permanent protection means the area would be managed to maintain and enhance its outstanding cultural, ecological, recreational, and aesthetic values. In short, instead of being drilled, roaded, logged, or otherwise developed, the Badger would continue to flourish in a natural state for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.
What Might Permanent Protection look like?
Permanent protection could come in various forms. For example, former Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested protecting the area as a National Monument. Other individuals and organizations, including years ago GTMA, have proposed Congressionally-designated Wilderness in recognition of its wilderness qualities. Other people have suggested designating it a national park.
All of these designations have their respective advantages. However, due to the Blackfeet Nation’s unique cultural relationship with the area and reserved rights, GTMA believes a place-specific designation that respectfully reflects both Blackfeet and non-Blackfeet values and interests is preferable. For these reasons, Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance is actively collaborating with Blackfeet leadership, other conservation organizations, engaged citizens, and community leaders across the Reservation and the region to define what permanent protection for the Badger could look like. Collectively we aim to develop a specific proposal that will permanently protect this remarkable place.
Whatever type of designation ultimately emerges, be assured Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance will ensure it contains strong protections for both the irreplaceable ecological and cultural attributes of the Badger. At a minimum, this should include prohibitions on future road building, commercial logging, and new structures. (Note: since 2006, the area has been permanently withdrawn from all forms of mineral exploration and leasing, including new oil and gas leases; however, existing leases and claims remain valid.) Such provisions will ensure the area’s outstanding wildlife habitat, uncommon plant communities, inventoried roadless areas, and headwater streams remain primarily affected by the forces of nature—not modern industrial activities— and that the Badger is a place where nature and human cultures continue to thrive for centuries to come.
The Role of the Blackfeet
Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance believes the Blackfeet Nation should have a more meaningful and substantive management role as co-stewards of the Bader-Two Medicine alongside the U.S. Forest Service. An expanded role is both right and just. This area was originally Blackfeet territory as well as part of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation until its sale to the United States government in 1896. The Blackfeet Nation still retains rights to access and use of the Badger for various purposes, including (but not limited to) hunting, gathering, and religious practices. Given the area’s ongoing importance to Blackfeet culture and identity, we think the Blackfeet government should have a greater role in determining how Blackfeet cultural properties and reserved resources in the area are managed than consultation practices with the U.S. Forest Service presently provide. An expanded role will enhance the collective management capacity to care for the area by making additional knowledge and resources available. Finally, we believe the public good is best served when governments work together productively.