Homestead Act vs. Rich “Outdoorsy” Californians: Which Is Worse for the Bitterroot?

The Bitterroot Valley’s current ecological problems include poor soil health, water over-usage, overgrazing, polluted streams from mining, and urbanization, to list a few. These issues are both relevant as well as historical. Overgrazing and water over-usage stem from the agricultural heritage of the valley. The Homestead Act incentivized people to move west along the Transcontinental Railway in the 1850’s. There are similarities with what happened to the Bitterroot Valley almost two hundred years ago and what is happening now. Back then, people came and completely changed the natural ecosystem in the name of farming and cattle grazing. This led to the destruction of native plants, overgrazing, pollution, poor water management, and a major loss in wildlife. Nowadays farmers are feeling pushed out by rich Californians looking for vacation homes which is leading to urbanization of the fertile valley. The valley is simply entering a new era, it went from natural ecosystem to farmland, and now to an exclusive retirement community of Californians. 

Montana may seem like a good model for understanding the world’s environmental issues because of its history with mining, agriculture, and also wilderness. However, the amount of money and education that exists in areas like the Bitterroot or the Gallatin Valley to address these issues are disproportionate to the resources available worldwide. People moving here want their “wide open spaces” and clean water in order to fly-fish and they have the resources to make that happen be it with money, political influence or expertise from a formal education. Environmental issues in India or Mexico will not be changed by “the people” because they’re focused on staying alive due to socioeconomic factors that don’t exist in Montana. There are many differences worldwide that not one single model can explain the world’s environmental issues, especially not a secluded, ritzy valley in Middle-Of-Nowhere, Montana. 

One thought on “Homestead Act vs. Rich “Outdoorsy” Californians: Which Is Worse for the Bitterroot?”

  1. Your interesting title attracted me to read your blog post. I had never really thought before I read this article by Diamond about how farming impacted the Montana environment’s soil health before people started moving here in recent years. Growing up in the Gallatin County I was taught that the environmental issues currently facing our state was because of Californians moving in and building large subdivisions that changed the area and affected the soil. The fact of the matter is due to Socio-Tropic Cascade this process happened back when the Homestead Act was passed and settlers became to move here and change the landscape by farming. I agree with your point that Montana is not a good area to compare environmental issues to the rest of the world because as you point out countries like India and Mexico in the Global South do not have the money or resources to fix these problems as we do in these areas of Montana with a population of some wealthy citizens. Great job on your post!

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