Big Sky, Big Issues

“Not until 1971 did the state of Montana pass a law requiring mining companies to clean up their property when their mine closed.” (Diamond, p.38) Mining in Montana began in the 1860’s (p.33). Over one-hundred years of mining took place without legislation that required companies to take action against the massive amounts of toxic waste that is produced. It is now poisoning the land and animals surrounding old mines throughout Montana and no one will pay to clean it up. This is one example of environmental problems that the Bitterroot Valley faces. Historically, these issues have been poorly handled and the consequences are dealt with today while trying to manage fire, soil, water, climate change, and invasive species. Invasive species of plants, animals, and disease are causing major, irreversible problems and most of these species were introduced a long time ago, “…whose dangers were mostly unappreciated at the time…” (p.56)  The issues themselves have been created and exacerbated due to attitudes, values, and actions of the past and additionally, people’s views and actions today, in response to these problems, have been shaped by those who have come before.

It’s not only helpful to size down big issues, it’s crucial for understanding to look at the issue through a lense that is small enough to pick apart and examine the pieces. By looking at the environmental problems of the Bitterroot Valley in itself, as well as through the scope of Montana as a whole, progression of the relationship between people and the earth becomes tangible. Environment issues throughout the world may look different based on the place, people, and circumstances but the model of the Bitterroot Valley exemplifies the process in which growth and time lead to innovation, tragedies, and change in an environmental context.