President Donald Trump is expected to decide in December whether or not to designate 200 square miles of federal land in Montana as a national monument, NPR reports.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke requested an area known as Badger Two-Medicine be designated as a national monument over the summer. Badger Two-Medicine is a remote area sacred to Montana’s Blackfeet Nation as part of their origin story.
“You can only get in there by walking or by horseback, so it keeps it in its natural state,” Blackfeet tribal member Roland Kennerly told NPR. “I hope it stays that way, for my kids and my kids’ kids.”
The Louisiana oil and gas company Solenex is pushing back against the decision. The company is fighting to regain control of an oil lease purchased in the 1980s that was canceled and refunded in 2015.
Solenex tried to develop the 6,200-acre site, but the Department of the Interior prevented any development while it oversaw a challenge by the Blackfeet Nation saying the leases were illegally issued, the Associated Press reports.
William Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which represents Solenex, criticized Zinke for inconsistently enforcing Trump’s stance on national monuments in the secretary’s home state of Montana.
“It’s terribly disappointing,” Pendley told the AP. “What the secretary ought to be sending to the president is a recommendation to repeal the Antiquities Act, to put an end to this issue.”
Trump signed an executive order in April directing Zinke to review the United States’ largest national monuments and recommend changes or reductions to their boundaries. During the signing ceremony, Trump referred to several monuments designated by former President Barack Obama as “a massive federal land grab.”
Backcountry Hunters and Anglers President Land Tawney said Zinke’s move may be more related to future political plans than conservation.
“I think the secretary has talked about wanting to come back to Montana after he’s done being secretary and potentially run for governor,” Tawney told NPR. “I think the people of Montana hold our special places very near and dear. If you do not protect those places I think it’s a political nightmare for you in this state.”
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