The federal government has spared one Native American site from being developed for oil and gas drilling, and may have stalled another from being mined.
This week, the Bureau of Land Management cancelled a 6,200-acre lease in the Lewis and Clark National Forest near Glacier National Park. The area, also known as Badger-Two Medicine, is considered sacred to the Blackfeet tribes of the US and Canada. The BLM issued a lease to the oil and gas company Solenex in 1982, but determined this week that the lease had been issued improperly. Solenex is expected to challenge the cancellation in court.
In a statement, Blackfeet Tribal Business Council Chairman Harry Barnes said that the fight, which the Blackfeet Nation took up in 1982, has been for more htan just the Blackfeet tribe. “All of Montana and our country win. This pristine area so special to us and special to all who fight in this fight,” he said.
The Interior Department revoked the lease after determining that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act and National Historical Preservation Act. Any payments will be refunded, the department said.
“Today’s action honors Badger-Two Medicine’s rich cultural and natural resources and recognizes the irreparable impacts that oil and gas development would have on them,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel said in the statement.
Separately, in Arizona, the National Park Service this month listed a site known as Oak Flat, located in the Tonto National Forest, on the National Register of Historic Places.
The site has a large copper deposit and has long been eyed for development. The Apache have argued that the area is a holy site and that mining it would damage burial grounds.
In 2015, Arizona lawmakers inserted a land exchange agreement into the National Defense Authorization Act that traded 2,400 acres of federally owned land on top of the copper mine to an Australian-English mining company for 5,300 acres of land owned by the company throughout Arizona.
It’s unclear what impact the historical designation will have the proposed mine, as the listing itself does not prohibit mining, but could add extra layers of review and scrutiny before in trying to get a plan approved. Republican Congressman Paul Gosar, who supports mining the area, has called the listing “bogus.”