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Oil and gas drilling threatens grizzlies.

An energy company received permission in January to drill an exploratory oil and gas well near the border of Glacier National Park in Montana.

NPCA has written to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt asking that the decision be overturned.

The area in question, known as the Badger-Two Medicine, lies within Lewis and Clark National Forest. It is at the heart of one of the greatest expanses of wildlands in the continental United States, linking the park and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation to several wilderness areas. These lands are the most important habitat in the nation for the threatened grizzly bear and are home to gray wolves, black bears, bighorn sheep, and the West's second largest herd of elk. To the Blackfeet, the Badger-Two Medicine is sacred land, and practice of their religion hinges on access to particular sacred sites within it.

But in 1983 the American Petrofina Company applied to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management for permits to explore for oil and natural gas in the Badger-Two Medicine.

The Blackfeet, NPCA, and other environmental groups have fought the proposal since. The biggest concern is the effect drilling, and 4.5 accompanying miles of new road, would have on grizzlies. The Fish and Wildlife Service says leasing the area violates the Endangered Species Act unless the Forest Service shows it can control illegal killing of bears and vehicle access. Conservationists argue it has not done so.

The Badger-Two Medicine was included as a wilderness study area in the 1988 Montana wilderness bill passed by Congress but vetoed by President Reagan. Members of Congress have criticized the Forest Service for going against its standard practice of preserving areas under consideration as wilderness. Road building would make the Badger-Two Medicine ineligible.

But for the last decade, there has been pressure from the Reagan and Bush administrations to open the area to energy exploration. The permit was issued January 14, just before the change of administrations.

If Babbitt does not overturn the decision, said Dale Crane, NPCA Pacific Northwest regional director, the next step conservationists will consider is a federal lawsuit.
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Title Annotation:Glacier National Park, Montana
Publication:National Parks
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:352
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