The Bitter Roots of Today

The Bitterroot Valley’s environment problems include salinization of water caused by overgrazing of land and unsustainable agricultural practices, a higher demand of water than there is a supportable supply, expensive and often unfinished clean-ups of toxic mines, and the precarious relationship between logging and forest fires. These problems, like most issues in the world today, are bred from a complex interaction between their historical roots and current perpetuations. Mines from a century ago still pose an environmental threat to surrounding areas, yet sometimes their history seems to prevent solutions. Companies that acquire the mines later on do not want to accept the financial responsibility for their clean up, taxpayers demand that they do but do not take sufficient means to enforce it, and the government ends up establishing Superfund sites. In order to move past these differences, the history of the problems must be understood, and then superseded by cooperation.


Environmental problems often appear simultaneously at odds and in dependency with societal values and desires. The Bitterroot Valley is an excellent example of this; in Collapse Jared Diamond highlights the hypocrisy in controversy surrounding the Forest Service’s fire policies. “On the one hand, the public fears and instinctively dislikes the ‘let it burn’ response that the Forest Service is forced to take towards huge fires,”(Diamond, 46) while on the other hand, residents who build houses in and near expansive forests expect the Forest Service to go to great expense to save their private homes. Another social factor contributing to this issue is the predominating conservative outlook towards the federal government and its encroachment on individual lives. Some land owners refuse the government access to their land for fire prevention, despite its benefit towards more than just their property. While climate change and human activities like overgrazing, logging, and historical fire-prevention practices contribute to the worsening problem of large-scale forest fires, local social and political perspectives impede progress towards solving the issue at hand.