The case of the Bitterrott Valley: one hundred and fifty-plus years of poor environmental foresight

To thoroughly discuss the environmental issues that plague Montana’s seemingly pristine Bitterroot Valley would mean a deep-dive into a complex web of tightly connected issues that three hundred words certainly doesn’t allow for. These problems almost entirely arise from the poorly understood consequences of the Bitterroot Valley’s various historical economic endeavors, from mining, logging, agriculture, and much more. For example, widespread mining efforts that started over a hundred years ago left the Bitterroot Valley of today with deeply marred swaths of land, toxic waste seeping into the water supply, and hundreds of abandoned mines that pose a number threats to people and wildlife, just to name a few of the implications this largely discontinued practice of mining has had on the area. The damage has already been done, however, as these historical mining operations largely ignored the long-lasting effects that they might have had on the environment, leaving it largely up to to residents living in the area to complain to the government in a slow and mostly fruitless process to change the necessary legislation. Another pertinent issue stems from logging in the Bitterroot Valley in the 19th century, and problems that we face today based on what was done in the past. One unforeseen consequence that occurs as a result of logging is that it often leaves forests ripe for fires, which in itself may not be such a pressing issue, as fires are actually necessary for the health of a forest. However, mid to late 20th century firefighting involved an attempt to completely suppress and eliminate any and all forest fires, which taken in tandem with the climate’s trend toward hotter and drier summers, has resulted in unnaturally large and destructive forest fires.

 

The above paragraph only mentioned a fraction of the environmental problems seen in the Bitterroot valley as a result of poorly thought out industrial pursuits, though these problems are in no way unique to the Bitterroot Valley. In fact, “[V]isitors South Africa, Mongolia, and other countries contemplating mining investments have recently been coming to Montana to inform themselves at first hand about bad mining practices and their consequences” (Diamond 41). This means that Bitterroot Valley is a good example of what not to do, and if any positives can be found from this situation, it would perhaps be that the poor foresight of the past in Montana can help us learn how to better manage the environment all around the world.

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