GREAT FALLS — Five companies have agreed to relinquish federal oil and gas leases on 29,000 acres of land south of Glacier National Park along the Rocky Mountain Front, Sen. Max Baucus announced Thursday.
In 2006, Congress banned new leasing of federal lands along the east side of the Montana mountain range and created tax incentives for relinquishing existing leases.
Leases on at least 83,000 acres on the Front have been relinquished since the ban went into effect, according to the Northern Rockies Branch of The Wilderness Society. The latest relinquishment involves eight leases from Occidental Petroleum Corp. in Midland, Texas; BP America Production Co. of Houston; Williams Companies of Denver; Rosebud Resources Inc., of Dallas; and XH LLC of Fort Worth, Texas.
Company executives said they were pleased to relinquish the leases in an effort to preserve the environment of the area, and Baucus thanked them.
"The Rocky Mountain Front is considered by many to be a crown jewel of the West and a sportsmen's paradise," Baucus said in a statement. "Today's protection of an additional 29,000 acres of the Front will help ensure future generations will get to experience and enjoy one of the most treasured and unique landscapes America has to offer."
Most of the 29,000 acres in the Lewis and Clark and the Flathead national forests fall within the 130,000 acre Badger-Two Medicine area, which is valued for its scenery and wildlife and is considered sacred by the Blackfeet Tribe.
"The Badger-Two Medicine area of the Front is a vital part of our Blackfeet history and culture," said Keith Tatsey, chairman of the BTM Management Committee. "By retiring these leases, we will continue to have the opportunity to experience the life our ancestors understood would provide strength, subsistence, cultural identity and connect us with our creator."
Of the more than 152,000 acres of federal mineral leases originally held along the Front, nearly 111,000 acres will be permanently retired after this transaction. Tens of thousands of privately owned acres in the area have been put into conservation easements.
Another 29 oil and gas leases remain in the Badger-Two Medicine area, but none are producing.