Wildlife Management Institute

WMI Outdoor News Bulletin Baucus Announces Retirement of Leases on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front
Baucus Announces Retirement of Leases on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front PDF Print E-mail

photo of Rocky Mountain Front by Sam Beebe, EcotrustU.S. Senator Max Baucus (Montana) announced the relinquishment of oil and gas leases on nearly 29,000 acres in the Badger-Two Medicine (BTM) area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest bordering Glacier National Park. The oil and gas leases held by Occidental Petroleum Corporation, The Williams Companies, Inc., Rosewood Resources, XTO Energy Inc., and British Petroleum were returned to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on January 14. The 28,730 acres cannot be leased again because they are located in an area withdrawn from future leasing under a law that Senator Baucus helped enact in 2006, reports the Wildlife Management Institute.

“This is a great day for Montanans and I want to thank the energy companies for making this decision,” said Senator Baucus. “The Rocky Mountain Front is considered by many to be a crown jewel of the West and a sportsmen’s paradise. Today’s protection of an additional 29,000 acres in the Front will help ensure future generations will get to experience and enjoy one of the most treasured and unique landscapes America has to offer.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Senator Baucus for facilitating this transaction and for his commitment to the Rocky Mountain Front,” said Ray R. Irani, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Occidental. “Returning these leases in this iconic national forest to the federal government is the right thing to do and is consistent with Oxy’s commitment to safeguarding the environment.” The Rocky Mountain Front in Montana is renowned for its picturesque and nearly pristine landscapes not too unlike what Lewis and Clark witnessed on their historic journey across the West more than two centuries ago. Due to its abundant wildlife and healthy fish populations, the Front is a top destination for hunters and anglers. The BTM area in the northeastern portion of the Lewis and Clark National Forest is especially popular with sportsmen because it has drilling activity and is otherwise relatively undisturbed. The area serves as key habitat for several high-profile species, including grizzly bears, wolves, bighorn sheep and cutthroat trout.

The BTM also is considered sacred to the Blackfeet because it is the site of their creation story. Furthermore, their tribal reservation borders the area. “The Badger-Two Medicine area of the Front is a vital part of our Blackfeet history and culture,” commented Keith Tatsey, Chairman of the BTM Management Committee. “By retiring these leases, we will continue to have the opportunity to experience the life our ancestors understood would provide strength, subsistence, cultural identity and to connect us with our creator.”

Local support for protecting the natural beauty and the traditional ranching communities along the Front escalated early in the last decade, stemming from concern about increased oil and gas development. In 2004, the Bush Administration began an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on proposals to drill within the Blackleaf portion of the Rocky Mountain Front. However, in October of that year, the Administration put the EIS on hold, citing overwhelming public support for protection of the Front’s wildlife and recreational resources.

In 2006, Senator Baucus introduced legislation to prohibit future federal energy leasing along the Rocky Mountain Front. It passes. Leaseholders were urged to sell or donate their Front leases, or relinquish the leases to the BLM. The law also prohibits re-leasing of leases that expire or are retired. Private and state mineral owners remain free to develop, hold or sell their mineral rights as they see fit.

The companies who relinquished their leases back to the BLM this month did so voluntarily and did not receive cash reimbursement or tax benefit. With the voluntary relinquishments, 110,800 acres of what was more than 152,000 acres leased by the federal government for energy development along the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana have been permanently retired. These protected federal lands will complement tens of thousands of privately owned acres already put into conservation easements in this area, much of it also a result of Senator Baucus’ foresight and work.

“Helping to preserve the pristine environment of Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range is something that Williams is proud to do. While natural gas will continue to be a vital part of our nation’s energy future, it is important that we take advantage of opportunities that clearly provide mutual benefits to all parties,” said Steve Malcolm, The Williams Companies’ chairman, president and chief executive officer. (jas)