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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Protecting Badger-Two Medicine And The Grand Canyon

Air Date: Week of

The Havasupai live deep inside the Grand Canyon. Havasu Falls is a tourist destination for a lot of Grand Canyon travelers. (Photo: Tripp Gogoi, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Two legislative efforts that were already underway before the Biden Administration came into office are the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act and the Grand Canyon Protection Act. Both aim to protect the land from oil extraction and uranium mining, as well as the sacred lands and cultures and of the people who have lived there for thousands of years. Host Bobby Bascomb and Living on Earth’s Paloma Beltran discuss the status of the legislation in Congress and what’s at stake. 


BASCOMB: Well, there are countless sites across the country that conservationists say deserve protection as part of President Biden’s goal of thirty by thirty. And Living on Earth’s Paloma Beltran has been looking at what might happen next. Hey Paloma!

BELTRAN: Hi Bobby.

BASCOMB: So, what do you have for us?

BELTRAN: Well, I want to tell you about two areas that are up for protection and for both of them it’s not just the land that would be protected but also the culture of the people that have lived there for thousands of years. In both cases Native Americans are working with the government to try to get permanent protection for their land.

The Havasupai have lived in the Grand Canyon since time immemorial. This is an image taken in 1902 of Fannie Baanahmida, a member of the Havasupai Tribe. (Photo: Grand Canyon National Park Museum Collection, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

BASCOMB: Hmm… that reminds me of the Bears Ears National Monument, native tribes worked with the Obama administration to get the area protected but the Trump administration quickly squashed the plan and made some 85% of it available for oil and gas drilling.

BELTRAN: Right, so now tribes are working through Congressional legislation to get these lands protected, which is much harder for a future president to undo. For example, just outside the Grand Canyon there are roughly 1 million acres of public lands that are potentially open to uranium mining, which threatens both the national park and the drinking water supply for the Havasupai tribe. The reservation is deep inside the Canyon and is accessible only by helicopter, horse or by walking. They’ve been called the guardians of the Grand Canyon before.

BASCOMB: And now it sounds like they need to guard it against uranium mining.

BELTRAN: Yes, they’ve been working with Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva to do just that. In 2019 Mr. Grijalva introduced the Grand Canyon Protection Act. It’s to permanently put an end to uranium mining near the park. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support on February 26, 2021. Now it just needs to pass the Senate.

The Badger-Two Medicine area is 130,000 acres of wilderness. Badger-Two Medicine is named after two crystalline rivers that begin in snowfields and follow along thirty miles of the Continental Divide, Badger Creek (above) and The Two Medicine River. (Photo: Troy Smith, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

BASCOMB: Well, it certainly sounds like a good candidate. The Grand Canyon is such a huge draw for tourists and of course an important cultural site. What is the other area you want to tell us about?

BELTRAN: The Badger-Two Medicine area in northwestern Montana. It’s 130,000 acres of rugged snow-capped mountains, forests, and alpine meadows. It’s just south of Glacier National Park and within it are the headwaters of Badger Creek and the Two Medicine River. It’s home to grizzly bears, elk, wolverines and native fish like the cutthroat trout.

BASCOMB: Wow, it sounds stunning!

BELTRAN: Yes! But there’s a lot more to it than just beautiful vistas and habitat. This is the ancestral land of the Blackfeet Nation. And Jon Tester, the Democratic Senator from Montana, introduced a bill in 2020 to permanently protect it as a “cultural heritage area.” This is a first of its kind proposed designation meant to maintain the cultural integrity of the area and could be used as a new type of designation for protecting Native American lands in the future.

BASCOMB: Ahh… so, tell me more about the Blackfeet.

BELTRAN: Well, they’ve lived there for thousands of years. And it’s the backbone to their identity, home to their creation stories and a place of refuge and healing. That’s how it was explained to me by John Murray. He’s the Blackfeet Nation’s Historic Preservation Officer.

MURRAY: We were indigenous to this area. A lot of heroes, legends, the people that were responsible for a lot of the origins of our knowledge system are in the Badger-Two Medicine. A lot of people have conducted vision quests there. The Badger-Two Medicine is very important to us in the sense that we can still interact with nature.

The Badger-Two Medicine area is located between Glacier National Park, the Blackfeet Reservation and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. Solenex bought oil and gas drilling rights in the Badger-Two Medicine Area and continues to fight for drilling rights in the courts, despite President Obama cancelling oil and gas leases in the area. (Photo: Courtesy of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance)

BELTRAN: The Blackfeet Nation originally stretched from present day North Dakota, west to the Rocky Mountains and North into Canada. But starting in the 1870s the US government began to forcibly take Blackfeet land and allow mining. The Blackfeet have been fighting to protect their land ever since. In the 1980s President Ronald Reagan sold 47 oil and gas leases in the Badger-Two Medicine. Which John Murray says violated treaty rights.

MURRAY: It's the Blackfeet's last refuge. It's relatively wild, it's the way nature is supposed to be, and we've done that over eons of time.

BELTRAN: In 2017 at the end of the Obama administration the Department of the
Interior canceled the remaining oil and gas leases in Badger-Two Medicine but an extraction company which bought oil and gas leases in the area continues to try to fight that ruling in the courts.

BASCOMB: So, what is the status of Senator Tester’s bill to protect the Badger-Two and put an end to this battle about drilling there?

BELTRAN: Well it will need a simple majority vote in Congress to pass and President Biden's signature and Senator Tester is working to get it through.

BASCOMB: Alright, we’ll have to wait to see what comes of it. Thanks Paloma.

BELTRAN: Sure thing Bobby.



Check out the status of the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act in Congress

Grand Canyon Trust | “The Grand Canyon Protection Act: It’s Time”

Arizona Public Media | “The Grand Canyon Protection Act Passes the House”

Check out the status of the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act in Congress

Read the version of the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act from June 25, 2020

Glacier-Two Medicine | “Popping the Hood on the Badger-Two Medicine Protection Act”

High Country News | “New Bill Would Permanently Protect 130,000 Acres of Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine”


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