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.