The Bitter End of Montana

Throughout Western Montana, current and past human activity has created a variety of environmental problems. These issues are combinations of numerous causes. For example, the increased destruction of wildfires is an accumulation of climate change, short-sighted fire suppression techniques of the mid-20th Century, more flammable foliage, and much more. Agriculture is threatened by salination of soil, real estate subdivision, invasive species, and inflation. Most of Montana’s environmental issues are historical. They are tied to the actions of humans, not the expected processes of nature. Toxic waste infiltrates the Clark Fork because humans mined the hills for metal (Diamond, 39). Chronic wasting disease is accelerating from “one commercial game farm to another” (Diamond, 55). And a booming population unsustainably drains aquifers (Diamond, 52). The failing old-timer Bitterroot way of life can only be understood when considering how humans interacted with the natural world throughout the valley’s history.


The Bitterroot Valley is an unexpected yet appropriate example of human social collapse. The area has a shifting environment, unbalanced population, and political divisions. Additionally, because the Montanan wilderness plays such a primary role in Ravalli society, the region clearly projects “environmental problems that translate into economic problems” (Diamond, 74). Unlike most collapsed civilizations, Montana currently exists. With live people and recent measurements, scholars can derive information precisely. This trait gives Ravalli county a unique edge over places like Easter Island or Ancient Rome. Contemporariness combined with the region’s stunning beauty make the valley a compelling case study. Easter Island and Rome are gone, yet the Bitterroot Valley is certainly still salvageable. The possibility of preserving its beauty holds a power over the people who read about and visit it. Preventing the failure of this Bitterroot society might be possible through the lens of social collapse.

1 thought on “The Bitter End of Montana”

  1. An interesting read Ben. I agree that the Bitterroot offers a unique case study for social collapse, and that studying it further could offer insight into preventing said collapse. Do you think we could extend what we learn in the Bitterroot to all cases of societal collapse around the world, or just places whose problems are similar to Montana’s? I personally believe we could use the information as a basis of identifying where environmental problems stem from, and where they might go if left untreated. It’s also an interesting note that the environmental problems translate to economic problems. Money is a big factor in the valley’s many problems, but do you think there are any ways of lessening the economic strain these problems cause? Your bit about the old-timer way of life also got me wondering. Do you think the “failing old-timer Bitterroot way of life” can be recovered, or has the valley changed too much for it to be a sustainable way to live? In any case, this post was certainly a good discussion of the problems facing the Bitterroot and Montana.

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