West Yellowstone, MT - As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service considers the need to list Yellowstone Bison as a threatened or endangered species, there is a growing momentum among the interested Tribes to assert their inherent jurisdiction over wild buffalo and usher in a new era of stewardship over America’s national mammal. According to Nez Perce environmental scientist James Holt, the executive director of Buffalo Field Campaign, such an historic agreement between sovereign nations working with federal stewards would represent nothing less than the beginning of “true reparations” for the long-standing practice of cultural genocide, or ethnocide, that is still being perpetuated by the cattle industry to preserve their monopoly on public lands forage in the West.
Browning, Montana - The Blackfeet Nation has, since time immemorial, remained committed to protecting our sacred cultural lands in the Badger-Two Medicine. This area has forever been Blackfeet traditional territory, a place of refuge for our People. For decades, we have opposed plans to industrialize our cultural homeland. We want to acknowledge our many Blackfeet elders at the forefront of this struggle, who no longer are with us and who did not live to see the Badger-Two Medicine protected from development. We are grateful for their leadership. After these many years of struggle, our People are relieved that agreement finally has been reached between the U.S. government, tribal and conservation partner organizations, and the leaseholder—Solenex, LLC—to retire the last Badger-Two Medicine oil and gas lease.
Over the first eight months of 2023, the catastrophic impacts from climate change have become tangible for millions of people. From massive Canadian wildfires to 100-degree ocean waters off Florida, to a rare hurricane hitting California, the signs of an overheating globe are everywhere. Amid such devastation, youth climate activists in Montana have scored a precedent-setting victory: for the first time in U.S. history a court has ruled young people have the right to a livable climate. In Held v. State of Montana, District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled the state must safeguard 16 young plaintiffs’ right to a “clean and healthful environment,” which is protected by Montana’s constitution.
A Montana court ruled in favor of 16 young people who put their state government on trial in June in the first constitutional climate trial in U.S. history. In an order issued Monday, Judge Kathy Seeley in the First Judicial District Court of Montana found that the state had violated youth plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, including the right to a clean and healthful environment, because of Montana’s pro-fossil fuel policies, which require the state to disregard climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in environmental reviews. “As fires rage in the West, fueled by fossil fuel pollution, today’s ruling in Montana is a game-changer that marks a turning point in this generation’s efforts to save the planet from the devastating effects of human-caused climate chaos,” Julia Olson, chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, said in a statement.
A groundbreaking climate change trial will begin on Monday in a courtroom in Montana’s capital city, involving 16 young residents who allege state officials violated their constitutional rights to a healthy environment. Filed in March 2020, the lawsuit, Held v Montana, will mark the first-ever constitutional climate trial in US history. “We’re asking the government and the courts to do their job and protect us, along with the rest of Montana’s citizens and our incredible home state; this case is one big opportunity for the state to become a leader in preserving a safe, beautiful and prosperous future for Montana,” Grace Gibson-Snyder, a 19-year-old plaintiff, said.
As Republican leaders in the Montana legislature doubled down on forbidding Rep. Zooey Zephyr from participating in debate into a second week, her supporters on Monday interrupted proceedings in the House by chanting "Let her speak!" Zephyr, a first-term Democrat from Missoula, wanted to speak about a proposal that would restrict when children could change the names and pronouns they use in school, with their required parents' consent. When lawmakers voted to continue subjecting Zephyr to a gag order, denying her the chance to speak, the gallery, made up mostly of her supporters, erupted, forcing legislative leaders to pause proceedings and clear the room.
Climate concerns motivated a Montana judge to cancel the air quality permit for a controversial natural gas power plant. The 175-megawatt NorthWestern Energy plant would have emitted more than 23 million tons of greenhouse gases over its 30-year or more lifespan — the equivalent of adding 167,327 new cars to the roads each year — something that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not fully consider when it issued the permit, Montana 13th Judicial District Court Judge Michael Moses ruled Thursday. “DEQ’s failure to analyze this issue violated the clear and unambiguous language of MEPA [the Montana Environmental Policy Act],” Moses wrote.
Montana has repealed its 30-year-old energy policy – including a 2011 amendment that prioritized fossil-fuel development. The move comes as a June trial date approaches for a youth-led climate lawsuit against the state. In the lawsuit, Held v. State of Montana, sixteen Montana children and teenagers say that by actively promoting a fossil-fuel based energy system that is dangerous to the climate, state officials are violating the “right to a clean and healthful environment” for present and future generations under the state Constitution. It is the first constitutional climate case to go to trial in the United States.
Archie Martinez goes to bed with stained hands and wakes up at 4:30 a.m. to meet the person he pays to pick him up at the Bozeman homeless shelter. They drive to the shop of a painting company in Belgrade, eight miles away, where Martinez climbs into one of the company vans for the hour-long drive up the mountain to the resort town of Big Sky. As Martinez watches hayfields swim by in the dawn, a billboard blossoms out of the half-light beyond the van windows: “Dreaming of Your Own Equestrian Property?” Another advertises “Montana Life Real Estate.” The mountain sides along the highway glitter with the plate glass and stained wood of houses that weren’t there a few years ago.
In mid-January, Montana state Senator Keith Regier floated the idea of a bill that would call on federal lawmakers to investigate alternatives to the tribal reservation system, created by federal legislation in 1851 in an effort to silo Native American people, remove them from their traditional way of life and create space for white settlers. Regier claimed he was motivated by genuine concern for the “lives and well-being” of Native Americans and all Montanans, asserting the system was built on race and that reservations are not “in the best interests of either the Indians inside our borders or for our common Montana citizen.”
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes live among some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. Their home, the Flathead Reservation, covers 1.2 million acres dotted with soaring mountains, sweeping valleys, and lush forests. Flathead River bisects the land and drains into Flathead Lake, the largest body of fresh water west of the Mississippi River. Long before anyone called this place northwest Montana or considered it a tourist destination, it sustained the tribes and they sustained it. “We have a proven track record of sustainability,” says Shelly Fyant, former chair of the CSKT Tribal Council. “We can trace it back 14,000 years.”
Great Falls, Montana - A federal judge in Montana District Court ruled today to reinstate a moratorium on new coal leasing on public lands, halting all coal leasing on federal lands until the Bureau of Land Management completes a more sufficient environmental analysis. The original moratorium set by the Obama administration in 2016 was overturned by Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017. The Biden administration revoked the Zinke order last year, but did not reinstate the moratorium. “The Tribe has fought and sacrificed to protect our homelands for generations, and our lands and waters mean everything to us. We are thrilled that the court is requiring what we have always asked for: serious consideration of the impacts of the federal coal leasing program on the Tribe and our way of life,” said President Serena Wetherelt of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.
Roundup, Montana - Some rare good news came down from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently. In a 2-1 decision, the court rejected an Environmental Assessment (EA) that would have green lighted expansion to the Bull Mountains underground coal mine near Roundup, Montana. The court majority held that the EA provided no scientific reasoning to support its conclusion that the expansion would have no significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions. A Trump appointee on the 3-judge panel dissented on grounds that courts “are ill-equipped to step into highly politicized scientific debates like this.” As a result of the 9th Circuit decision, four environmental groups — 350 Montana, Montana Environmental Information Center, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians — will be allowed to continue their lawsuit challenging the environmental review in Montana federal court.
Young Montanans and their lawyers announced Monday that the first children's climate trial in U.S. history is set to begin a year from now in Helena, Montana. The historic trial in the constitutional climate lawsuit Held v. State of Montana is scheduled for February 6 through February 17, 2023 at the First Judicial District Court. "Going to trial means a chance for me and my fellow plaintiffs to have our climate injuries recognized and a solution realized," said Grace, one of the 16 plaintiffs, in a statement. "It means our voices are actually being heard by the courts, the government, the people who serve to protect us as citizens, and Montana's youth," she added.