On Wednesday, July 26, Scott Bosse, the Northern Rockies director for American Rivers, met up outside the Helena offices of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) with representatives from Simms, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Yellow Dog Flyfishing Adventures with a special delivery. The group made the trip to Helena to present the Director of Montana DEQ, Tom Livers, with 1200 signed petition postcards from Montanans urging Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to protect the water quality and wild trout fishery on Montana’s legendary Smith River’s. Through a collective effort, the postcards were gathered over the last year at “action centers” set up at Simms, Yellow Dog events, and through Backcountry Hunters and Anglers member engagement.
In December 2015, the Canadian mining company Tintina Resources Inc. submitted an application to the DEQ for a copper mine north of White Sulphur Springs near Sheep Creek, an important Smith River tributary. The proposed Black Butte Copper Project has raised alarm and concerns that this mine would be a grave threat to the beloved and historic Montana river system.
In addition to the delivery the postcards, Bosse and company used the meeting with Montana DEQ Director Tom Livers to express the concerns of their organizations and businesses over the proposed Smith mine. The group was given a full briefing on the way the state’s EIS process (a detailed statement on each proposal for projects, programs, legislation, and other major actions of state government significantly affecting the quality of the human environment) was going to be handled.
So is this an issue that really matters to Montanans and those that visit the state to fish and recreate? A Montana Conservation Voters poll from last September found that 64 percent of Montanans oppose the mine. Of those 64 percent, 48 percent strongly oppose the mine. From an economic perspective, a recent American Fly Fishing Trade Association (AFFTA) study found that the Smith River in Montana produces about 10 million dollars in direct, annual benefits just from fishing alone.
Will the State of Montana consider the full economic and cultural impact that fishing on the Smith River provides? Time will tell on the matter. At the conclusion of the discussion, the DEQ director indicated that the project is about to enter a new phase where there will be opportunities for more public comment in the near future.
“This is one of the state’s most precious assets,” said Bosse, “Our sportsmen, our conservationists, and our outdoor businesses are all watching this issue closely and it is at the very top of all of our lists of things we don’t want to see get messed up. The Smith River isn’t just a state asset but a national treasure.”
For more information on the Smith River and the proposed Black Butte Copper Project, visit www.americanrivers.org.