MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The Blackfeet Nation announced Thursday a proposal to permanently protect the Badger-Two Medicine as a cultural heritage area, shielding it from oil and gas drilling in northwestern Montana.
“It’s a Heritage area, which would be the first of its kind. It would create a special relationship between the Blackfeet Nation and its neighbors, achieving the goal of permanently protecting the area," Blackfeet Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Murray said.
The region covers about 200 square miles (518 square kilometers) bordered by the Blackfeet Reservation, Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest. It is considered sacred by the tribe.
The proposal would continue to allow public access for traditional recreational uses, including grazing and allow noncommercial timber harvest for forest health and fire protection. The land is already off-limits to new oil and gas leasing and motorized access, which would continue under the proposal.
The proposal would also protect existing treaty rights regarding shared oversight and landscape management.
“There are important voices that for too long have not been heard,” Murray said. “We have been refused a seat at our own table, and people across the country have been making decisions about our most sacred ancestral lands. This proposal provides us a voice in the discussion.”
A citizen advisory group with tribal and non-tribal stakeholders would also be created to work with the U.S. Forest Service on a long-term management plan.
Multiple plans have been advanced to protect the area, but this is the first proposal in 40 years written with Blackfeet involvement and with Blackfeet values included, said Terry Tatsey, a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council.
The proposal was released Thursday to reach Montana's congressional delegation before Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, Republican Sen. Steve Daines, and Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte depart for summer recess.
The proposal has already been endorsed by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the Blackfoot Confederacy, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, which represents all the Tribes of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.