MontPIRG tabling

Passers-by show their support for MontPIRG initiatives via signature on Aug. 26, 2019.

What Montana Public Interest Group (MontPIRG) is working to educate voters on two environmental debates concerning Montana heritage and outdoor recreation this semester.

The student-driven organization is advocating for the permanent protection of the Badger-Two Medicine wilderness area, also referred to as the “Crown of the Continent,” from fossil fuel extraction. 

The Badger-Two Medicine region is important for a variety of reasons. The wilderness area is where the Blackfeet Tribe’s creation story takes place. It is also home to important drinking water sources and a high-traffic wildlife corridor. 

“I think it’s time that we recognize the importance of spiritual places for indigenous peoples, as well as the importance this place holds for the continuation of outdoor recreational heritage in Montana,” said MontPIRG Campus Organizer Sammy Thomas, “and be able to realize that these places are special for a number of reasons.” 

In 2013, the first drilling lease was cancelled in the Badger-Two Medicine by the Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell. According to an article on WildMontana.org, the Department of the Interior cancelled the Solenex lease, along with two final leases, in 2016. However, Solenex LLC, along with additional parties that held leases in the area, continue to challenge these cancellations and pursue the possibility of drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine, according to the Montana Wilderness Association. 

Leases to drill in the Badger-Two Medicine, which were given out under President Reagan’s Administration in the 1980s, were determined illegal when challenged judicially, according to Thomas. 

MontPIRG has gone door-to-door, informing students and community members of the challenges facing this area. 

According to Thomas, MontPIRG collected over 2,500 comments from across the state in favor of permanently protecting the Badger-Two Medicine. She hopes this support will encourage Sen. Steve Daines and Sec. David Bernhardt to pass S. Res. 250 to defend the permanent cancellation of these leases. 

Additionally, MontPIRG is raising awareness of an underfunded Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and how it could impact outdoor recreation, from national parks to local sports fields. 

Established by Congress in the 1960s, the LWCF funds land and water conservation efforts across the country. Federal offshore drilling fees, not taxpayers, support this fund. $620 million has directly benefited the state of Montana alone. 

As of now, Sen. Daines has proposed a bill to make the LWCF a permanent program. The funding the LWCF receives has historically been determined by Congress. Currently, the LWCF is funded at only ⅔ of what it needs to be to correctly fund projects across the country, according to Thomas.

“We’re just asking him to recognize that the LWCF does a lot,” said Thomas. “Not just for the state of Montana, but across the country and for conserving places that we truly care about.”

MontPIRG is currently running comment collection to ask Sen. Daines to fully fund the program. Sen. Tester has already voiced his support for fully funding the LWCF. The organization also held a rally in Missoula at a hotel where Sen. Daines spoke. Its goal is to pressure Sen. Daines to fully fund this program before it’s passed permanently, to ensure that the program continues necessary conservation work in every state. 

“If we don’t have a way to fund those projects or a way to maintain those projects going forward,” said Thomas, “are we just going to be the last generation to enjoy them?”