Montana's Best-Kept Secret
Driving along U.S. Highway 2 from Browning to Marias Pass in Montana, your senses are dominated by the snow-capped peaks of Glacier National Park. You are mesmerized by the way the land seems to move against itself as you drive. Foothills, valleys, and peaks contrast in a tableau rarely found anywhere else. This scene is accentuated by the wildflowers dotting lime green landscape. Once in a while your attention shifts to the south side of the highway. Not seeing anything excessively interesting, your gaze moves back to the north side.
The Badger-Two Medicine
What you’re missing is a large and forgotten component of the Glacier-Bob Marshall-Great Bear Ecosystem: the Badger-Two Medicine Roadless Area and Traditional Cultural District. Known mostly to the local people who hunt, trap, fish, hike, horse pack, gather herbs, perform ceremonies, and seek solitude here, the Badger-Two Medicine is the largest unprotected roadless tract adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana.
There are no glaciers here, nor deep blue lakes, nor cloud-splitting peaks.
What is here is an inviting combination of rugged mountains, deep forest, clear streams, aspen thickets, and fescue parks. Seen from out on the prairie, the slopes of the foothills are a patchwork quilt of forest and meadow, classic big game winter range. Here is the “edge effect” referred to by wildlife biologists—rich wildlife habitat, populated by elk, deer, bear, wolf, moose, sheep and other wildlife species.
In contrast to the deep U-shaped valleys of Glacier National Park, the valleys here are wider and the slopes more gradual. Here is a unique combination of moist riparian and important big game habitat, especially important to the survival of the grizzly bear and gray wolf. A person hiking through here could meet a grizzly or flush a Canada goose from its nest. Ducks, rails, grebes, coots, and snipe are found in abundance. Water courses often consist of stair-stepped beaver ponds buzzing with activity. Any beaver pond with a lodge in the middle of it invariably will harbor a goose nest. Mink, otter and other small mammals are common.
As you scan a map of this region, your mind is lured into a reverie of bygone days by names such as Morningstar, Feather Woman, Bull Plume, and Kiyo Crag. You wonder if the country has changed much since the days when this land was known only by the Blackfeet.
"Died and Gone to Heaven" Country
There is much opportunity for solitude here. Because of the overwhelming popularity of Montana’s Glacier National Park and the adjoining Bob Marshall and Great Bear Wildernesses, this land is mostly forgotten and you are unlikely to meet anyone on the trail. Horse feed is in good supply around campsites. When questioned about why the Badger-Two Medicine is so special to her, a horse packer replied, “It’s ‘died and gone to heaven’ country and you’ve got it all to yourself.”
The Badger-Two Medicine wilderness classification has largely been forgotten as well. Twenty thousand acres in the southwest corner were originally proposed with the Great Bear Wilderness. However, these lands were deleted from the proposal. Local conservationists are hopeful of joining with the Blackfeet Tribal Council, tribal members and community members to create a shared vision for the area’s future. Proposed oil and gas development, timber harvest, and road-building makes it imperative that the Badger-Two Medicine be considered for some form of protection. Its large size (over 130,000 acres), importance as a Montana wildlife corridor, and cultural importance to the Blackfeet make it a prime candidate for permanent protection. We can’t afford to forget the Badger-Two Medicine anymore.