The Bitter Truth

There are two types of environmental problems facing the Bitterroot valley. These problems are either modern or they are more historical. The historical causes are ones that any human population would cause in any given ecosystem. These do not include complications of mining practices, manmade dams, logging (or lack thereof), water rights, and human industrialization. For example. Indigenous tribes of the bitterroot valley (the Kootenai, Salish, and Pond Oreille) would systematically burn the underbrush in forests to prevent massive forest fires. This practice allowed for native species to thrive. The struggle that the state and valley face in order to fight fires isn’t historical but a product of the desires of its inhabitants. As Diamond mentions the population is divided between low income people whose priority is survival in a capitalistic society and higher income tourists/seasonal inhabitant whose priorities in the valley are to maintain beauty regardless of consequence. On the other hand, the problem of invasive plants and animals are a historic problem. We consider non-native species to be harmful when really, they just bring about change which seems harmful but would occur naturally by means of trade and transportation by other animals.

The Bitterroot valley is not an ideal representation of the worlds environmental issues. It’s set of problems are largely informed by the its population and its relatively pristine status doesn’t equate to the large-scale crisis effecting much larger areas of the world such as acidic rain. The important aspect of tourism-based industry does not relate to a majority of other parts of the world. Though it may present as a good case study for other areas as to what could happen specifically after un-controlled mining is allowed.

2 thoughts on “The Bitter Truth”

  1. I think your differentiation between historical and modern problems is a very interesting one, and certainly provides a framework for understanding the issue. You say that “The historical causes are ones that any human population would cause in any given ecosystem” – a bold claim, but not one that can be discounted. I am curious to why you define it as such, however. Arguing either side brings up a whole host of issues, namely the nature vs. nurture debate in the development of human culture; you seems to side with the nurture side in saying that any given ecosystem, no matter who inhabits it, will end up with the same environmental problems it would have had another group been there. I’m not sure I can agree with that, but I also don’t argue the “nature” side of the debate. Of course, there are always more than just two factors, but your juxtaposition of those two is quite interesting.

  2. I would argue that tourism actually does affect many places around the world in a similar way, especially as wealth continues to concentrate. Countries like Cambodia and Myanmar (while politically and economically disadvantaged for various reasons) rely heavily on tourism to sustain their economies, which at the same time damages their cultural values and changes the way in which they interact with their native land. When we visit the Pagoda in Bagan or Angkor Wat, we support the communities of natives that now cater entirely to us as tourists. At the same time, we enjoy witnessing what were once active places of worship that have now become commodities; tourism in that sense exploits the original attraction and turns it into something else, with a host of consequences (good and bad, hard to say) along the way. The long-term residents cannot compete economically with money from tourism, so their livelihood is transformed. The influx of tourists changes the very environment, both physically and metaphysically. Tourism may exacerbate existing problems of pollution and strain on resources.

    Consider the ease with which we are able to travel now, as opposed to 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago. What makes quaint little exotic villages or small rural towns so pleasant to visit? It is because people have stayed there and invested their livelihood into that place. While travel can have many positive consequences, such as personal growth or making connections that would be otherwise impossible, traveling (as a lifestyle) also keeps us from investing our livelihood into one place. When this happens on a massive scale, what are the unintended consequences of that? We may find it difficult to create policy, because our values and perceptions will continuously undergo shifts. We might find that our lack of commitment to any one place has resulted in the general decay of many places. In any case, the repercussions of tourism are not to be dismissed.

    I do agree that the Bitterroot Valley is not an ideal representation of the world’s environmental issues. However, I think that as a model for understanding the complexity of causes and effects that society and nature have upon each other, the Bitterroot Valley example is successful.

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