Badger Bulletin

Reflections on a Monumental Victory

Badger Bulletin

Reflections on a Monumental Victory

Lou Bruno
Lou Bruno

By Lou Bruno | October 2023

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Daily Inter Lake on Oct. 1, as well as the Missoulian and Glacier Reporter. Lou Bruno is vice president and a founding member of Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance.

Montanans have cause to celebrate. After nearly four decades of threat, the wild and sacred peaks, wildlife, and forests of the Badger-Two Medicine are finally safe from industrial oil and gas development.

This is a victory for the people of Montana, who came together to fight for our public lands and outdoor heritage. It is a victory for the Blackfeet Nation, who has stewarded these ancestral lands since time immemorial. And it is a victory for all who believe that there are places on our planet that are too sacred and too special to drill.

Fall colors in the foreground, mountains in the background
The headwaters of Hall Creek, one of two sites approved for exploratory oil and gas drilling in the 1980s. The drill site was located in vital spring range for grizzly bears, near trout spawning grounds and within site of Glacier National Park. The Two Medicine area is also used for cultural and spiritual practices by Blackfeet tribal members. Today, thanks to the work of Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, Blackfeet leaders, and conservation partners, all the leases and drilling permits in the Badger-Two Medicine have been retired and the area is off-limits to future drilling or hardrock mining. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Legault)

For many of us, this has been the battle of a lifetime. I still remember that cold November night in East Glacier Park four decades ago when the Forest Service presented us with a plan to develop the forest and mountains where we hunted elk, hiked, rode horses, and picked huckleberries. We were outraged. It was time to step up and to save our way of life from industrialization.

That’s why a small group of tribal members and non-tribal residents of East Glacier formed the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance and began a decades-long campaign to raise awareness. We had no prior experience engaging with the government or big oil or running campaigns. Many of our neighbors told us we had no chance, and besides, the Reservation could use the jobs. But we knew in our hearts that the Badger-Two Medicine was worth fighting for.

Black-and-white photo of a banner protesting oil drilling
A prominent protest banner hung by members of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance opposing oil and gas development in the Badger-Two Medicine. Our early and sustained opposition helped spawn a four-decade movement by tribal traditionalists, conservationists and other allies to stop development of these wild and culturally-significant lands. In September, our coalition announced the retirement of the last of the 47 federally-issued leases for the area. (Photo courtesy of Ed DesRosier)

Looking back now, I’m astounded we succeeded given what we were up against. In the early 1980s, there was intense pressure to open public lands like the Badger-Two Medicine to oil and gas development. The pressure to drill didn’t just come from a few oil and gas companies, either. It came directly from the White House.

The Reagan Administration, motivated by a belief that no place on earth, no matter how sacred or special, should be off limits to industry, leased nearly the entire Badger-Two Medicine for $1 an acre. The politicians and oil executives believed that if they could drill on the very doorstep of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, they would set a precedent to be able to drill anywhere on public lands.

But we refused to give up. We organized educational trips and outings, engaged public schools, defended our case in court, and worked with other conservation groups and the Blackfeet Tribe. Slowly but surely, we gained ground and won over the hearts and minds of Montanans.

Collectively, we compelled the government to suspend development and undertake a more thorough assessment of impacts to the land and wildlife and to the Blackfeet’s reserve rights and cultural practices. In 2006 Congress passed legislation to protect the Badger-Two Medicine from development. This set the stage for the eventual retirement of every acre that was inappropriately leased.

This victory is a testament to the power of what is possible when ordinary people come together in a respectful way, focused on our common interests. We can make a difference for the well-being of the land and our communities, no matter how impossible the challenge may seem.

A musician performs a song in a meadow
Jack Gladstone, head of the Blackfeet Headwaters Alliance, one of the tribal groups who opposed drilling the Badger-Two Medicine, sings at the proposed drill site at Hall Creek during a hike to celebrate the successful retirement of the oil and gas last lease and permit to drill in the area. Summit or Backbone Mountain in Glacier National Park is clearly visible in the background. (Photo: April Espinoza/Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance).

I hope the story of the Badger-Two Medicine will be a source of inspiration for the next generation of advocates and lovers of Montana. Just as the Badger-Two Medicine will continue to face new pressures and challenges, other special places in Montana will no doubt require a new generation of defenders.

Thank you to everyone who played a role in this victory. And thank you to those who fought for Badger-Two Medicine but are no longer with us. Let us never forget the power of our voices and the importance of fighting for the places we cherish. Don’t ever give up.

Your support makes a difference.
Our long-standing fight to defend the wild and sacred Badger-Two Medicine is possible because of your financial support and volunteer activism. Donate today to support Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance’s continued work to protect native species, clean water, and wild lands in the Badger-Two Medicine and surrounding areas of the Crown of the Continent ecosystem of Montana.
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