Environmental Issues Under the Big Sky

Diamond spends the first of several pages discussing the sublime beauty of south-western Montana. He proceeds to point out the paradoxes of the state-such as its large size and low population density. This transitions nicely to his contrast between Montana’s beauty and the environmental issues within the state. As Diamond puts it, “the Bitterroot Valley presents a microcosm of the environmental problems plaguing the rest of the United States: increasing population, immigration, increasing scarcity and decreasing quality of water, locally and seasonally poor air quality, toxic wastes, heightened risks from wildfires, forest deterioration, losses of soil or of its nutrients, losses of biodiversity, damage from introduced pest species, and effects of climate change” (Diamond 32). Many of these problems are historic. They are consequences of politics in a grand scheme of national/international business through mining as well as local politics (i.e. territorial militias) and pesticide regulations among other agents.


Considering the plethora of issues outlined by Diamond, it is a good way of understanding environmental issues specific to regions like Montana. What is more applicable to global environmental issues are the processes by which Montana’s environmental issues came about. These processes are tertiary as they rely on climate and geography as well as government policies to shape pollution. Some more prominent examples include pollution produced by gold, silver and copper (among other valuable metals) mining in the Bitterroot Valley and its greater area, or the geography surrounding Missoula that contributes to inversion in the winter. It is important to note the greater lessons of the causes of current environmental issues as many of them continue today, despite the knowledge of the issues they create.