Values of Consequence in the Bitterroot Valley

The Bitterroot Valley of Montana faces issues concerning water quality, soil erosion, poor forest management, loss of industry, invasive species, and a changing socio-economic demographic, among other things. It’s difficult to conceptualize any of these problems as discrete issues, for they are so very interconnected. Water quality is affected by agricultural runoff, mining, urbanization, and the conditions of the surrounding landscapes, including foliage along the river’s edge. The quality of the soil is also affected by agricultural practices, mining/ industry, and urbanization. The out-sourcing of the timber industry has resulted in a build-up of deadfall in many forests, which has allowed them to burn at much higher levels of intensity than would occur if the forests were properly managed. The loss of the timber industry, as well as many agricultural and mining jobs has resulted in a shift in the demographic that resides in Montana; wealthier out-of-staters are attracted to the pristine beauty of Montana and drive up the property values, so much so that long-time residents can no longer afford to live there. The new ‘industry’ of Montana then becomes recreation and tourism, which creates problems for the management of the forests, brings in invasive species, and ultimately affects the very biodiversity of Montana.

As Diamond mentions in the beginning of the chapter, Montana in comparison with other parts of the country and world at large is not on the verge of collapse. I think it’s easier to appreciate the problems of the Bitterroot Valley precisely because we have so much more to lose than many other places. However, as conditions in other parts of the country continue to worsen due to climate change, Montana will undergo increased population growth and urbanization, which will in turn exacerbate all of the aforementioned problems. It’s interesting to think about how policy is made in regards to the values of a place, and how the shift in the demographic of Montana will inevitably affect policy. Consider how the management of our forests has been influenced by increased tourism and recreation, and the consequences of that we might not have expected because of how we ‘value’ the landscape. As an explanatory model, the Bitterroot Valley provides good insights as to how so many factors can affect each other to create a much more complex picture than if we were to just examine series of discrete issues.

2 thoughts on “Values of Consequence in the Bitterroot Valley”

  1. Hello Hilary,

    I really like the point you make about how the issues such as water quality, soil erosion, etc are often interconnected. An example of this would be in the Berkeley Pit, where the toxic water from past mining operations has led to the deaths of hundreds or thousands of birds, in some situations killing entire flocks which would definitely impact biodiversity. It is good for us to keep in mind that, like with trophic cascades for animals, the environment itself relative to plants and other areas can suffer from similar cascades that can impact all life around them. I also like how you tied this in with how increased urbanization and demands on the environment will affect the state of Montana; hopefully as the population grows we all can do our best to minimize the damage inflicted upon the environment.

  2. I really agree with all the ideas you thought of surrounding the issues in the Bitterroot. You make a few really good points, most that I hadn’t thought of myself. The appreciation of the issues in the valley is also a really good way to put it, as you said we have so much more to lose than most other places. The growth and urbanization is also another great point that definitely gets overlooked. Very interesting!

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