The Blackfeet Tribe last week announced its intention to release 89 buffalo onto the Badger-Two Medicine region of the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
The 160,000 acre region just south of Glacier National Park at Marias Pass is a land of rolling grassy hills, forests and river valleys. The Tribe also notes the region is a Traditional Cultural District under the National Historic Preservation Act.
But it’s also the center of a battle between the Louisiana-based Solonex Corp. and the Department of the Interior.
Solonex owned about 3,200 acres of gas and oil leases on the Badger Two Med near Hall Creek, until earlier this year when the DOI canceled the leases and paid off the company for the rights after Solonex sued to force the issue. Solonex is continuing the case, challenging the lease cancellation in federal court.
The company has long maintained it should be able to drill, noting the lease dates back to the early 1980s and went through the necessary environmental review.
The Blackfeet dispute that, as does the DOI. The Blackfeet consider the Badger Two Medicine sacred ground.
The land is a popular place to hunt — it has a large elk herd already. How a herd of buffalo will impact the region remains to be seen, but buffalo once roamed the land along with elk for thousands of years until they were all but wiped out by white hunters at the turn of the 20th century.
Now the Blackfeet are looking to restore their native buffalo herds. The 89 buffalo come from a herd that has ancestry from the tribe. They were a last remaining lineage that ended up in Elk Island National Park in Canada.
Last spring, the tribe obtained the small herd from the park.
Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest spokeswoman Kathy Bushnell said the next step is to get all the parties involved together to discuss the matter. No timetable has been set on that.
“There are a lot of questions we’re trying to figure out,” she said.
The tribe also wants to restore the buffalo back to Glacier National Park near Chief Mountain.
The Glacier National Park Conservancy is in the process of raising $100,000 to support the environmental review and other aspects of that effort.