While shrinking Utah monuments, Zinke calls for new one for Badger Two Med

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A hiker looks over the Badger-Two Medicine region with the high peaks of Glacier National Park to the north.

Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke last week recommended national monument status for the Badger-Two Medicine region of Glacier National Park, while President Trump, in turn, ordered that national monuments created by former President Barack Obama be shrunk.

There was both criticism and praise for the measure.

“While we appreciate Secretary Zinke recommending national monument protection for the Badger-Two Medicine, we find it reprehensible that he’s doing so at the same time he’s stripping protection from a place that is as sacred to five sovereign southwestern nations as the Badger-Two Medicine is to the Blackfeet,” Casey Perkins of Montana Wilderness Association said. “We believe that Badger-Two Medicine deserves permanent protection, but any discussion of that must originate with the Blackfeet.”

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers also opposed shrinking the Utah monuments.

“America’s conservation legacy defines us and is the envy of the world,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney in a press release. “Today is a dark day for that legacy. (Teddy) Roosevelt is shaking his fists. Undermining one of our bedrock conservation laws and selling out to industry flies in the face of T.R., who President Trump said he wanted to emulate.”

Roosevelt first used the 1906 Antiquities Act to create the first national monument — Devil’s Tower — in Wyoming.

But the National Rifle Association supported shrinking the Utah monuments.

“The NRA applauds President Trump and Sec. Zinke’s decision to restore access to public lands in Utah. Under the Trump Administration, decisions regarding national public lands are transparent and being made with the input of America’s sportsmen and women,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA executive director.

Closer to home, the Badger-Two Medicine is currently embroiled in federal lawsuits, as two oil companies are suing the federal government, claiming that Obama, in the waning days of his administration, illegally canceled leases they held for decades.

The Badger-Two Medicine region is just south of Glacier National Park at Marias Pass. It’s considered sacred ground by the Blackfeet tribe, though it is not part of the reservation — it’s part of the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest.

A land of rolling hills, grasslands, woods and idyllic streams, it’s home to a large elk herd and other abundant game species.

The region was protected by Congress under a bill by former Sen. Max Baucus that banned all future energy leases, but the law did not cancel existing leases.

In a memorandum issued to President Trump last week, Zinke recommended that the 130,000 acre Badger Two Medicine region be “considered for designation as a national monument and as a candidate for co-management with the Blackfeet Tribe.”

Tribal chairman Harry Barnes told the Associated Press Saturday that he saw a “workable solution” to Zinke’s proposal to co-manage the area with the tribe, but stressed that the Blackfeet have never sought a national monument designation for the land.

“We want total return to Blackfeet ownership,” Barnes told the AP, adding that the idea of a monument “has been proffered and advanced by others ... The Blackfeet Tribe’s interest has always been protection of the Badger-Two Medicine. We have fought a long time and we see it not being over yet.”

In 1896, the Blackfeet sold the land — known as the ceded strip — to the federal government for $1.5 million. At the time, the tribe owned the lands east of the continental divide to the Canada border, including the eastern half of what is now Glacier National Park. Under the ceded strip treaty, the Blackfeet retain the right to hunt, fish and gather timber on the land.

But Blackfeet historians have long questioned the legitimacy of the sale.

The shrinkage of the Utah monuments, is a large one. Bears Ears Monument would be shrunk from about 1.3 million acres to roughly 228,000 acres, while Grand Staircase would be shrunk from 1.9 million acres to about 1 million acres.

While Zinke claimed the national monument shrinkage had nothing to do with energy interests, the Washington Post on Saturday, citing documents it obtained, clearly show that Energy Fuels Resources lobbied the Trump administration to shrink the Bears Ears monument. The company has a uranium processing plant not far from the monument boundary and claimed there could be uranium deposits in the monument boundaries.

Several conservation groups have promised to sue the administration over shrinking the Utah monuments, including clothing company Patagonia.

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