The Bitterroot Valley of Montana faces issues concerning water quality, soil erosion, poor forest management, loss of industry, invasive species, and a changing socio-economic demographic, among other things. It’s difficult to conceptualize any of these problems as discrete issues, for they are so very interconnected. Water quality is affected by agricultural runoff, mining, urbanization, and the conditions of the surrounding landscapes, including foliage along the river’s edge. The quality of the soil is also affected by agricultural practices, mining/ industry, and urbanization. The out-sourcing of the timber industry has resulted in a build-up of deadfall in many forests, which has allowed them to burn at much higher levels of intensity than would occur if the forests were properly managed. The loss of the timber industry, as well as many agricultural and mining jobs has resulted in a shift in the demographic that resides in Montana; wealthier out-of-staters are attracted to the pristine beauty of Montana and drive up the property values, so much so that long-time residents can no longer afford to live there. The new ‘industry’ of Montana then becomes recreation and tourism, which creates problems for the management of the forests, brings in invasive species, and ultimately affects the very biodiversity of Montana.
As Diamond mentions in the beginning of the chapter, Montana in comparison with other parts of the country and world at large is not on the verge of collapse. I think it’s easier to appreciate the problems of the Bitterroot Valley precisely because we have so much more to lose than many other places. However, as conditions in other parts of the country continue to worsen due to climate change, Montana will undergo increased population growth and urbanization, which will in turn exacerbate all of the aforementioned problems. It’s interesting to think about how policy is made in regards to the values of a place, and how the shift in the demographic of Montana will inevitably affect policy. Consider how the management of our forests has been influenced by increased tourism and recreation, and the consequences of that we might not have expected because of how we ‘value’ the landscape. As an explanatory model, the Bitterroot Valley provides good insights as to how so many factors can affect each other to create a much more complex picture than if we were to just examine series of discrete issues.