Indigenous communities might seem obvious stakeholders in the protection of wilderness areas, but it does not always, or even often, play out that way. Graham Lee Brewer, a reporter for Audubon Magazine, has this to say about changes in the works:
An emerging effort to protect 30 percent of the country’s land and water is an opportunity to strengthen tribal sovereignty and heed Indigenous ecological knowledge, experts say.
For nearly four decades the Blackfeet Nation has fought off attempts to drill for oil and gas in Montana’s Badger-Two Medicine area. Nestled in a national forest beside Glacier National Park, the region’s sweeping valleys, rivers, and wetlands—almost entirely unmarred by roads—form the setting of the Blackfeet creation story and host tribal ceremonies today.
After winning the latest battle last June, when a federal court threw out the industry’s remaining lease there, the tribe now seeks more enduring protections. Its leaders worked with U.S. Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce a bill in July that would permanently conserve nearly 130,000 acres. A new “cultural heritage area” designation would also give the Blackfeet more say in how it’s cared for. “We have our own ethical way of working with the land,” says John Murray, a tribal historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Nation. “We have a way of managing Badger-Two Medicine down through the centuries.”
That conservation effort and many others could get a boost from a growing initiative built around a bold idea: protecting 30 percent of the country’s land and sea by 2030, up from only 12 percent of lands and 26 percent of waters today. Governments across the globe have united around that target, which scientists say is the minimum needed worldwide to blunt biodiversity loss and the effects of climate change. President Joe Biden has followed suit by setting a national “30 by 30” goal and putting federal agencies to work on a plan.
Now there’s hope in Indian Country that 30 by 30 offers tribes a chance to take the lead in safeguarding more of the places stolen from them. In a January Colorado College poll of voters in the West, 77 percent of all respondents—and 82 percent of Native Americans surveyed—supported the goal…
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