Court upholds cancellation of Solonex’s Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas lease

The sun sets over the Badger-Two Medicine area near Browning in March 2016 - AP

Solonex lost big in court this week in their effort to retain their oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine. Unless the case goes to the Supreme Court, that puts paid to the last lease in the region . . .

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. upheld the cancellation of the last remaining federal oil and gas lease in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine region adjacent to Glacier National Park on Tuesday. The historic decision protects lands and waters sacred to the Blackfeet and critical for wildlife habitat, advocates for the region noted.

The 6,200-acre lease, held by Louisiana-based Solenex LLC, was one of many issued by the federal government in the early 1980s. Since then, with the leases under suspension for environmental and cultural review, other companies voluntarily retired all holdings in the Badger-Two Medicine, noting the area’s rich natural and cultural values. Solenex, however, filed a 2013 lawsuit demanding the right to begin drilling in the Badger-Two Medicine backcountry.

In March 2016, the Obama Administration responded to that Solenex demands by canceling the company’s holding, saying the lease had been improperly issued in violation of environmental law and without required tribal consultation. Solenex again sued, seeking to overturn that decision, and a federal district court ruled for the company in September 2018, reinstating Solenex’s lease. But today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that ruling, and restored the cancellation of the Solenex lease.

In their ruling, the Appeals Court judges fully vacated the lower court’s judgment . . .

Read more . . .

Moncrief Oil permanently retires 7,600-acre lease in Badger-Two Medicine

Badger-Two Medicine Flowers

Some good news for the Badger-Two Medicine region: Moncrief Oil has retired their oil and gas lease. Only the Solonex leases remain in contention . . .

One of two contentious oil and gas leases is no longer a threat to a sacred wild land south of Glacier National Park.

On Tuesday, the Wilderness Society announced it had reached an out-of-court settlement with Moncrief Oil to permanently retire a 7,640-acre oil and gas lease in the Badger-Two Medicine area of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. That leaves one 6,200-acre lease owned by Solonex LLC still in play.

“The Wilderness Society thanks Mr. W.A. Moncrief, Jr. for his willingness to negotiate, and we are pleased to have been able to secure the retirement of this lease. We look forward to working with our partners in the Blackfeet Nation and other stakeholders to obtain permanent protections for this important area of our nation’s public lands,” said Wilderness Society president Jamie Williams in a statement.

Read more . . .

Expanded touring & guiding on the North Fork: summary of routes, maps, dates and ‘service days’

North Fork Flathead River, May 16, 2018 - by William K. Walker

For those of you interested in more information about the Forest Service special use permits being considered for touring and guiding in the North Fork, Rob Davies passed along a very useful “summary of the routes, maps, dates, and service days that folks asked about at the meeting last Tuesday night.“ (Note that Rob must be working some long hours. I got his email a little after 930pm yesterday evening.)

Read the document here (PDF format)

Judge cancels almost 300 oil & gas leases in Montana

The BLM had a bad day in court this week when a bunch of oil leases they’d sold in central and southern Montana got canceled . . .

A federal judge on Friday canceled nearly 300 oil and gas leases in Montana because government officials failed to properly study the risks of all that drilling to the environment and water supply.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management sold 287 leases covering approximately 227 square miles of public land in central and eastern Montana in 2017 and in 2018. The agency’s environmental reviews concluded that drilling would carry minimal risk to the areas’ natural resources.

Three residents and two environmental groups sued in 2018, saying the agency didn’t consider the risks of shallow hydraulic fracturing on groundwater or the cumulative effects of adding hundreds of drilling sites to the landscape. They also said the agency did not address the leases effects on the release of greenhouse gases and climate change.

Read more . . .

Federal court orders Glacier Park, 22 others, to make air tour management plans

Glacier Park and 22 other national parks is being forced to devise a formal air tour management plan . . .

A federal appeals court has ordered Glacier National Park along with 22 other national parks to come up with an air tour management plan with the federal Aviation Administration within two years.

The May 1 decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is in response to a lawsuit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

“For almost 20 years, the FAA and the NPS have allowed an airborne reign of terror to go unmitigated over park skies,” PEER attorney Paula Dinerstein, who argued the case before the court said. “PEER will work with affected communities and parks to, at long last, develop responsible air tour management plans.”

The Air Tour Management Act of 2000 requires vendors who wish to conduct commercial air tours over certain national parks and tribal lands to first obtain a permit from the FAA.

Read more . . .

Forest Service wants to allow expanded touring & guiding on the North Fork

UPDATE: The NFPA’s comments on this issue were submitted to the Forest Service on April 29. Read them here. Or visit the “Official Comments” page.

Flathead National Forest

The Flathead National Forest is seeking public comment on a number of “recreation events and services,” several of which would occur on the North Fork. Only a couple of major requests significantly affect the portion of the North Fork north of Big Creek.

The Hungry Horse News has a good write-up on the situation. The items most relevant to the North Fork are quoted below.  [Clarifying comments are in brackets.]

“Whitefish Shuttle is seeking a permit to provide guided day-use van tours, biking, and hiking on Forest Service system open roads and trails in the North Fork area of the Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger District and west of Highway 93 on the Tally Lake Ranger District. The permit would allow for shuttle services and guided van tours, biking, and hiking and between June 1 and Oct. 31 on various system roads and trails including Forest Service Roads 115 [Red Meadow Rd], 376 [Hay Creek Rd], 909 [road from Hay Creek Rd past Cyclone LO trailhead to Coal Creek Rd], 317 [Coal Creek Rd], 316, 315, 5207 [these last three are the route to Moose Lake, starting at the Big Creek Rd turnoff from the North Fork Rd] and Forest Trails 40 [trail to Cyclone LO] and 266 [Demers Ridge Trail – likely the trailhead near the Camas Road intersection that accesses the ‘quad burn’ trail up Glacier View Mountain].”

“Northwest Adventure Sports is requesting a permit to provide guided ATV tours on “various” open motorized system roads on the Tally Lake and Hungry Horse-Glacier View Ranger Districts. Roads currently requested include Forest Roads 9790, 1658, 316 [Big Creek Rd], 115 [Red Meadow Rd]. The permit would allow for guided trips from June 1 until Oct. 31.”

Also note the following other item of interest:

“Spotted Dog Cycles out of Missoula is seeking a permit to run a “bike packing” tour for one week that would stop in the Red Meadow area one night and then drop down into Polebridge. Owner Joe Riemensnider said the entire tour, which will last six days in July, will cover about 150 miles, but only two are actually in the North Fork.”

The deadline for comments is May 1, although this may be extended. Please read the full official announcement document for details on how to submit comments for the various projects.

Read more at the Hungry Horse News . . .

Read the official Forest Service announcement here . . .

North Forkers prepare to “shelter in place”

COVID-19 Symptoms InfographicCOVID-19 is now considered a global pandemic with cases rising exponentially around the world. This disease can cause pneumonia and death and there is no vaccine against it and no cure. People over 60 are most at risk. There are probably many more infected with the virus in the U.S. than has been reported due to the lack of testing across the country.

In Montana, as in many states in the country, schools are closed and events have been cancelled in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming our hospitals which is happening in Italy right now.

The North Fork is a good place to isolate oneself and many North Forkers have prepared to “shelter in place” for the duration of the threat. However, as North Forkers continue to travel and make trips to town, the chances increase that the virus will find its way to the North Fork. Please exercise precaution when returning to the North Fork and delay getting together with friends and neighbors until you are certain you haven’t brought home a nasty souvenir.

North Forkers who have gone to town have reported empty grocery shelves and a long line at Costco as people stock up.

Below is the latest notice from Governor Bullock regarding the coronavirus.

Continue reading North Forkers prepare to “shelter in place”

Frozen Moose way more than just logging

Whitebark Pine Closeup, 2016 - W. K. Walker
Whitebark Pine Closeup, 2016 – W. K. Walker

Here’s a good overview of the North Fork’s Frozen Moose project . . .

The Forest Service aims to accomplish much more than homeowner protection from wildfires through the Frozen Moose Project. That was the message presented by Glacier View/Hungry Horse District Ranger Rob Davies at the North Fork Interlocal meeting held last week in Kalispell.

The proposal, an 8,000-acre fuels reduction project entailing non-commercial thinning, commercial timber sales, and prescribed burning on Forest Service land in the North Fork of the Flathead hopes to fulfill many other objectives, Davies told the crowd.

During thinning and logging operations, the agency hopes to push the forest composition towards more fire-resilient species, favoring tree species like larch and Douglas fir, which are more disease and insect resistant, drought tolerant, and with their thick bark, more fire-resilient.

Read more . . .

Researchers spend years building datasets for elusive wildlife

Canada lynx sitting - US Fish and Wildlife Service
Canada lynx sitting – US Fish and Wildlife Service

Here’s an interesting piece on the efforts over the last 20-plus years to collect data on rare, elusive species like the Canada lynx . . .

In a state where regal mountains and unconfined rivers demand attention and esteem, there exists also the less obvious, but no less significant creatures that call these places home. And one would be hard-pressed to find a Montanan who hasn’t acknowledged a simple creed: our state wouldn’t be as special if our wild landscapes lacked wildlife.

“These animals are part of Montana’s history, and when some of these species start dropping off, like you lose a lynx here or some grizzlies there, then you lose the essence of our state’s culture,” said John Squires, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula.

Squires has devoted decades of his life to researching some of Montana’s most elusive animals, the ones most humans will never witness in their natural habitats. At the heart of those efforts is the threatened Canada lynx, an incredibly rare and snow-dependent cat facing potential removal from the federal Endangered Species List despite there being a lack of sufficient scientific evidence to support delisting.

Read more . . .