Farnum Alston: a commitment to conservation

By Kelley Willett

I never had the good fortune to meet him, but I know that Farnum Alston fished all over the world. His friendships and achievements also span the globe. Farnum’s resume lists a plethora of accomplishments that are a testament to his lifelong commitment to public service and environmental protection. 

I know all of this because one of his friends (a past MTU volunteer who has also given time and treasure to MTU) reached out to MTU after his death and together with Farnum’s widow, decided to honor his memory and make a big difference for Montana Trout Unlimited. They wanted his abundant fishing gear and drift boat to raise funds for cold-water conservation in Montana. As ever, MTU, is humbled when people think of us during the hardest of times.  

Each year MTU hosts friends and donors on float trips to highlight the great work that their philanthropy makes possible. The aim is to show impact, and hopefully that results in more philanthropy. We’ve been rowing folks down the river in a very well-loved, two-decade old drift boat that has seen better days. Last year a staff member was ejected when a seat broke; we’ve been questioning if the boat is still safe for tours. We would not want to use donor funds to buy a new craft, which is why the gift of this beautiful, safe, comfortable boat is such a boon. We know that when people see the work, and the fish, and the repaired riparian corridors, that they want to continue giving, and in many cases give even more. A day on the water gives us the perfect place to also take about our policy, advocacy and education efforts that also benefit MT’s coldwater fisheries. We are excited to put a plaque in the boat recognizing this family for helping us and honoring this anglers’ legacy.  

Fifty years from now, someone will be fishing a reach of a Montana river that was dear to this angler, and that will be thanks to his friend and his widow having the vision to honor his memory with a gift that truly keeps on giving. 

To make a gift in Farnum’s memory, please consider Montana Trout Unlimited, which conserves, protects and restores the very Montana cold-water fisheries that he loved.  

Checks can be mailed to:  MTU, PO Box 7186, Missoula, MT 59807, or give online at www.montanatu.org

VICTORY! Judge Says DEQ Violated the Law on Smith River Mine

You stopped the mine on our beloved Smith River. On April 11, Montana Trout Unlimited received word on our court challenge that we won both the MEPA and MMRA claims we filed against the Black Butte Mine and DEQ. Your donations, letters, phone calls, and time helped us achieve this victory. This marks a rare moment in Montana history that a mine has been stopped because it poses serious environmental risks. Thank you!  

In its ruling, the Court stated: “Plaintiffs claim that DEQ failed to ensure the safety and stability of Tintina’s tailings storage facility, failed to prevent excessive nitrogen from entering Sheep Creek and contributing to algal blooms that choke out fish and other aquatic life, and failed to consider reasonable alternatives to alleviate or avoid potential environmental harms….This Court finds that DEQ’s decision to permit the Black Butte Copper Mine was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful.

As you know, MTU joined MEIC, EarthWorks and American Rivers to challenge, in district court, that MT Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) did not properly or sufficiently evaluate the risks this mine poses to water quality, quantity and the Smith fishery under the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) and MT Metal Mine Reclamation Act. The first and only hearing was held on July 16th, 2021, and the decision came in our favor of all of our claims about the risks the mine poses. 

If we’ve learned anything in this fight, it is that there are always more rounds, so while we are celebrating this win, we remain poised for our next action. We are also still committed to the mineral withdrawal on public lands that will provide an additional layer of protection for the Smith River. 

We could NOT have accomplished historic protection without you.

Thanks for all you do for trout in Montana and everywhere!

David Brooks

Executive Director

Montana Trout Unlimited

MTU Starts “Wrappin’ & Rappin'” Vidcast

Wrappin’ & Rappin’ is Montana TU’s new video podcast series, focusing on signature flies from some of the state’s premiere waters, as well as discussions about conservation in the places our guests know best. Each week we tie a fly and chat! In this episode, we focus on the Smith River and the Gonzo streamer, popularized by Joe Sowerby of MT Fly Fishing Connection. Our guests our MTFFC guides Will Plumhoff and Jason Brininstool. We discuss this year’s drought and how the river fared, hear some stories of the Smith’s infamous weather, and talk best boat camps, including one that may be haunted! Enjoy!

MTU & Partners File Legal Action to Enforce “Bad Actor” Law

Today, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Fort Belknap Indian Community, Ksanka Elders Advisory Committee, and several conservation organizations took legal action in State District Court to compel the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to fulfill its legal duty to enforce the “Bad Actor” law against Hecla Mining Co. and Hecla CEO Phillips S. Baker, Jr. Tribal leaders and conservationists are concerned about the devastation to the land and water from Baker’s former mining operations (the Zortman Landusky and Beal Mountain Mines) and the threat of proposed new mines.

“Good governance requires that laws be enforced, especially those that are designed to protect the public,” said Andrew Werk, Jr., President of the Fort Belknap Indian Community. “Our community members know all too well about the lasting legacy of mining pollution. This law is about protecting communities and ensuring that mining companies take responsibility for their actions, and we cannot emphasize strongly enough the importance of enforcing it.”

“The Cabinet Mountains hold an important position in the relationship between the Ksanka people and all of creation,” said Vernon Finley of the Ksanka Elders Advisory Committee and member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.  “The “Bad Actor” law is the best way to hold people responsible for attempting to heal the wounds inflicted on nature. To simply free someone from their responsibility is to allow them to do it again and is unforgivable.”

The Bad Actor law was enacted in 2001 to prevent senior mining executives and companies from receiving a new permit to mine in Montana if they’ve failed to clean up past operations unless they reimburse the state for those cleanup costs. 

DEQ filed a Bad Actor enforcement action against Hecla and Baker in March 2018. After the State District Court ruled that DEQ did indeed have jurisdiction over the Idaho-based company and Baker, DEQ announced it was dropping the case, citing the election of a new governor, among other reasons. 
The tribes and conservation groups gave DEQ advance notice, and an opportunity to reinitiate enforcement before initiating today’s legal action.

Today’s complaint asserts that the DEQ’s refusal to enforce the Bad Actor law violates its clear legal duties under the Montana Metal Mine Reclamation Act and Montana’s Constitution. The group also delivered a petition with more than 3,000 names to Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office, calling on the governor to protect Montana by directing DEQ to enforce the state law to prevent a wealthy Idaho-based mining executive from getting off “scot-free.”  The lawsuit is filed on behalf of the tribes, as well as conservation organizations represented by Earthjustice (Earthworks, Montana Environmental Information Center, Clark Fork Coalition, Rock Creek Alliance, Montana Conservation Voters, Montana Trout Unlimited, and Cabinet Resources Group).

“It’s DEQ’s job to enforce the law and prevent corporate polluters from getting off ‘scot-free’ from their cleanup responsibilities,” said Bonnie Gestring, Northwest Program Director for Earthworks. “DEQ’s decision to drop this case leaves us no other option than to compel enforcement of our reclamation laws through the courts.” 

“The Bad Actor law was passed by a republican legislature and signed by former Governor Judy Martz in order to assure and require that mining projects are properly reclaimed,” stated Derf Johnson, Clean Water Program Director with the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Governor Greg Gianforte cannot simply choose to ignore the law for political expediency, and that’s why we’re taking the DEQ to court.” 

“Governor Gianforte needs to do his job and protect Montana from rich out-of-state executives who have a history of sticking us with the bill to clean up their messes,” said Whitney Tawney, Executive Director of the Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund. “The law is clear: anyone who is responsible for poisoning Montana’s land and water must clean up their mess before receiving the right to mine in our state again.”

“The purpose of the Bad Actor law is to promote responsible mining, to protect Montana’s clean water, air and environment, as well as taxpayers from unscrupulous mining executives,” said David Brooks, Executive Director of Montana Trout Unlimited. “DEQ’s failure to enforce this law is such a clear-cut case it leaves us no choice but to take this action on behalf of Montanans and our state’s environmental health.”

“DEQ’s refusal to enforce the ‘bad actor’ law against Hecla and CEO Baker is indefensible,” said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Galvan, who is representing the groups. “This abdication of responsibility is not only illegal under Montana law, but also recklessly jeopardizes every Montanan’s constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.”

“It’s hard to imagine how DEQ’s about-face on ‘bad actor’ enforcement serves Montanans or fits in with the decades-long work to clean up and restore mining-damaged waterways and landscapes,” said Karen Knudsen, Executive Director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “By backing away, DEQ is inviting mining history to repeat itself – and communities, taxpayers, and clean water will be the ones paying the price.”

“The Gianforte Administration is refusing to enforce the bad actor law, which will give mining companies and their executives a free pass to repeat irresponsible behavior,” said Mary Costello, Executive Director of Rock Creek Alliance and Save Our Cabinets. “The bad actor law must be enforced to protect Montana’s most valuable asset, which is clean water, and to send a message that no one is above the law.”  

I find it unbelievable that the law is being ignored by DEQ and is opening the door to possible irreparable damage to the watershed of Rock Lake, one of the jewels of the Cabinets, as well as pollution from mine waste into Lake Pend Oreille, the second largest lake in the western United States,” said Jim Nash, President of Cabinet Resource Group.


Phillips S. Baker served as the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Pegasus Gold, when it filed for bankruptcy in 1998, leaving the State of Montana with tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs when the company abandoned its operations at the Zortman Landusky, Beal Mountain and Basin Creek gold mines. The state has spent more than $30 million at Zortman-Landusky alone, where acid mine drainage despoiled the land, water, and sacred sites of the Fort Belknap Tribes, whose reservation borders the mine site. Publicly funded water treatment costs continue at Zortman Landusky and Beal Mountain today and are likely to continue forever.

Hecla and its CEO, Baker, are currently proposing two massive new copper/silver mines (the Rock Creek and Montanore Mines) adjacent to and underneath the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness in northwestern Montana that have been the subject of two recent court decisions because the company’s mine plans failed to comply with the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.  

The Bad Actor law was enacted in 1989 and strengthened in 2001 in direct response to the Pegasus Gold bankruptcy. The legislation was carried by former Senate President Tom Beck (R-Deer Lodge), passed the senate with bi-partisan support (a 97-2 vote), and was signed into law by former Republican Governor Judy Martz.  

Be A Boat Inspection Station Pro

This August 2-8, we’re celebrating the first ever Watercraft Inspector Appreciation Week with our partners at Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Protect Our Waters Montana. Thanks to our inspectors, aquatic invasive species (AIS) spread is being reduced in our waterways, and we owe them our gratitude and our courtesy when we pull through the station. We know it’s tough to be patient at the boat check when you’re excited to get out on the water, so here are a few tips to make your inspection a breeze.

Clean, Drain, and Dry your gear and watercraft after every use!

Thanks to the magic of self-serve carwashes, this step is easier than ever! Find the closest wash bays near your home (most take credit cards now) and make cleaning out your boat part of your chores at the end of a day on the water. The best time to wash everything is right before you put your boat into dry dock. Pull the plugs on your vessel and allow all water to drain out of your bilge, live wells, bait wells, and motor. Store your boat with the motor in the down position. All inspectors check your motor and if it’s already empty, you just saved yourself a few minutes waiting for it to drain.

Make sure your anchor and anchor rope are clean of mud and vegetation.

If you’ve got some mud and weeds on there, clean them off and also mind your anchor rope to make sure it’s also clean and dry. It’s easy for small bits to get stuck in pulleys, cleats, and fasteners. Anytime you pull your anchor up off the bottom of the lake or river, make sure to get it clean before you put it back in the boat. Makes cleaning up later even easier. This also goes for removing weeds from your lure. Keep the weeds in the water, not in your boat.

Ask yourself “Where and when did I go boating last?”

If you know you’re about to hit the check station, run through your memory banks before you pull in. Inspectors will always ask where you were, how long it’s been, and where you plan to go next. If you’ve recently been in a waterbody with AIS concerns, know that you’re going to get some extra scrutiny. It helps if all your gear is clean and dry!

Get an Inspection Passport for Each Boat and Keep them Handy

If you’re a “frequent flyer” ask your inspector for a Boat Passport for each vessel. Keep them in the glove box of the car you use to tow. Then you’ll always have them for the inspectors when you pull through.

Be courteous!

No body likes a grumpy person. When you remain polite and courteous to your watercraft inspectors, they will get through your inspection faster, guaranteed. The only thing you get out of making a fuss is a longer inspection. Be prepared, answer the questions you’re asked, follow instructions, and they’ll get you on your way as quick as they can.