Bitterroot Valley Case Study

The Bitterroot Valley of southwestern Montana faces a multitude of environmental issues today.  They only seem to get worse as time progresses.  Many factors contribute to these problems such as Montana’s geographical location, natural environment, industrial usage, a shifting population, and politics.  Some of the major issues facing it are water contamination, depletion of the water supply, forrest fires, and degradation of the soil.  These problems seem to have begun or gotten more severe as humans began to interfere with nature. For instance the harsh mining practices of the industrial age led to heavy metals and other toxins being introduced into the water supply and soil.  Methods such as cyanide heap-leaching led to massive amounts of toxins and heavy metals being introduced into the environment.  That coupled with the negligence of the mining companies to clean up after themselves have led to a ticking time bomb that only grew as mining continued and these practices went unnoticed.  In the late 19th and early 20th century these companies and the public thought little of the issue as the effects were simply unnoticed or not thought of by the public.  US regulations introduced to keep mining companies accountable have proved inefficient and only after the effects began to effect people directly were these problems brought to the forefront of the public’s mind.  Another problem that has not been created but perhaps accelerated or worsened by human interference is forrest fires.  Forrest fires are naturally occurring and it is now widely understood that they are beneficial to maintain the forrest environment and biodiversity.  Logging practices have depleted the forrest’s most fire-resistant trees and created more trees that burn easier.  Human interest and interference is interesting in this aspect because contradictory beliefs have led to a kind of catch-22 where people don’t want to interfere with the forest’s “natural” state, but when there is a forrest that threatens their homes and property value they demand the government to take action against the fires.  Soil degradation also plagues the area as increasing amounts of salts have made the soil sterile or toxic.  This again was brought on by a series of human activities such as mining and intensive industrial farming.  Farmers are now trying to practice more ecologically friendly farming practices such as planting crops that restore nitrogen to the soil or are able to grow in altered soils.  These problems seem large but perhaps they are solvable if people could work together.  

The case study of the Bitterroot Valley in Montana seems to be a good one as it has the factors that plague other regions of the earth such as population shift, industrial abuse, and a politically divided public.  The changing social structure of the region is also alike to other regions such as my home of Orange County, California.  Once an almost endless scenery of citrus orchards has given way to a concrete jungle with an obnoxiously inadequate water supply and where naturally occurring forrest fires that once bothered nobody now threaten foreigners multi million dollar track homes.  However while the Bitterroot Valley is a good case study variables compared to other regions will change such as the kind of industry being practiced in the region, the politics, and the social makeup of the region.    

2 thoughts on “Bitterroot Valley Case Study”

  1. Just to start off I really enjoyed reading your blog. We seem to be thinking on the same page. I agree that the water issues are our number one problem and it needs to be discussed first. Its not that I forgot but you made me remember the large amount of forest fire prolems that we have. Im my own belief though, I do think all the high-class people that buy fancy homes should have to pay for a private fire Department for them. I know their are tons of them around to hire. Isnt it enough that they volunteer in many towns to risk their lives saving home for people that actually make a living here? Sorry but I just had to rant about it.

  2. Great overview of Diamond’s chapter. I thought it was interesting how you mentioned the regulations introduced to keep mining companies accountable have proved inefficient and people only noticed the importance of protecting the environment after they were directly affected. It brought out the point that many people do not see the importance of using ecology friendly practices than more of a moral obligation. While ideally everyone should strive to practice ecology friendly practices out of a selfless moral obligation to keep our waters and lands clean, many do not, therefore it is important to stress the effects of ecological malpractice on spreading disease, pollution of both air and water, and the spread of wildfire (like you mentioned) and how they effect the general public. Unfortunately, this alone likely won’t change everyone, however, it is a step in that protecting the environment is no longer simply a moral obligation towards the environment but also a moral obligation to friends, family, and the future generation. Ultimately protecting the environment is a moral obligation everyone can play a part in and requires that many do in order to be successful. As Diamond states, only when the general public pressures it’s politicians into passing laws demanding different behavior will companies behave differently (Diamond p. 38). Otherwise companies have no motivation to change their practices as doing so betrays the interests of their shareholders.

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