Big Sky Big Consequence


The Bitterroot Valley of Montana currently faces environmental problems that are very much characteristic of the mountain west since the boom of population, ranching, agriculture, and industry by humans. To be more specific, erosion and waste products cause by mining, logging and burning of forests which effects rivers, wildlife, and forest fires, soil degradation, weed introduction, all contributing to lowered water quality as a result of toxins and excess sediment, loss in biodiversity, and lowered air quality. These environmental problems are both simple and complex in that it is clear how they are created by our human activities, yet we are so far from being able or willing to change our reliance on the land that we have used to support us for irreversible growth. In pristeine settings, the land is in constant cycles of wear and repair from natural environmental impact. With the rise of static human populations and domestication plants and animals, there is no opportunity for the cycle of repair.


I think that the Bitterroot Valley and Montana in general offer a good model for understanding the world’s environmental issues because of the direct response the land offers to the pressure we put on it in this area. As Diamond emphasizes, this land would be far from ideal for growing domesticated crops without the advent of sophisticated irrigation and farming techniques. The rivers would be clearer and colder and offer unobstructed passage for fish species, the trees thicker, taller, and less vulnerable to the destruction of wildfires, and native plants whose roots protect the soil from erosion damage would continue to thrive. We can look at these very clear effects of our activity on the land as a means to examine the effect of the same activity on different environments.