Bitter Problems in the Bitterroot and Beyond


The environmental problems the Bitterroot Valley currently faces are toxic mining waste, deforestation, salinization and erosion, climate change, and invasive species. Mining and logging have been major parts of Montana’s history since the late 1800s. The repercussions of bad mining practices over the last century are now being felt by today’s residents in the form of toxic waste, polluted streams and rivers, and cleanup costs in the millions. The increasing demand for lumber after WWII resulted in clear-cutting sections of forest, which led to sediment runoff, decreasing water quality, and the greatest issue, “was that clear-cut hillsides looked really, really ugly.” (Diamond, 42) Climate change has caused higher temperatures and low rainfall in an area with already little rain. Invasive species were introduced, and now run rampant throughout the state. These problems are historical because they stem from issues that have plagued the valley for decades. They began as small problems, but the neglect of these problems over time has amplified them.


I think the Bitterroot and Montana offer good models for understanding how the world’s current environmental problems arose. The problems the Bitterroot and Montana face are not unique. Since the Bitterroot and Montana are rural, we can examine how these issues affect smaller populations, and attempt to broaden that examination to larger populations. We can study how these problems arose, how they have changed, and whether or not economical solutions to these problems exist on a small scale. We could then attempt to expand this knowledge to the rest of the world to understand the how, when, and where of modern environmental issues around the world. After all, even the most modern cities and advanced countries were, at some point, rural themselves. Understanding environmental problems in Montana could lead to understanding for the rest of the world.

1 thought on “Bitter Problems in the Bitterroot and Beyond”

  1. Great job Ty! I especially enjoyed your comments on how the Bitterroot’s problems started off small yet evolved into more significant problems through human neglect. I find it captivating that even if humans don’t neglect the problem but instead try their ideas of improving it, they can still intensify the issue. For example, in the early to mid-20th Century, the forest service attempted to combat the threat of wildfires with an aggressive suppression program. While this seemed proactive at the time, it ensured that vast areas of forest weren’t receiving the natural culling of frequent forest fires and thus would burn hotter and longer in the future. (Diamond, 44). These situations demonstrate the nuances of the natural world and how difficult it is for humans to foresee the consequences that lie many levels down the socio-trophic cascade.

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