Smith River Protection

What makes the Smith such a remarkable place?

Located in west-central Montana, the Smith is the only river in Montana that requires a recreational permit, awarded via a lottery system, in order to float the corridor. Boaters embark from Camp Baker near White Sulphur Springs, and travel nearly 60 miles over several days, camping beneath towering limestone cliffs in a canyon that seems to go on forever.

Jaw dropping views await around every bend and the river features world-class angling for wild brown and rainbow trout. But fishing is such a small piece of the Smith’s story: it’s a place of great recreational, ecological and cultural value for many people who have visited this valley from around the globe for thousands of years. Floating the Smith is “a bucket-list trip” for many people and those that know it well will drop everything when given a chance to return.

Why is the Smith under threat and what is MTU doing to defend it?

In 2014, a foreign owned mining company, Sandfire Resources, Inc. applied for a copper mine exploration permit on a major headwater tributary to the Smith River, Sheep Creek. Sandfire proposes to mine in a sulphide ore body, which makes this mine a high risk for producing acid mine drainage.  Acid mine drainage is environmentally devastating and requires permanent water treatment.

On April 9, 2020, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) released their Record of Decision(ROD) permitting the Black Butte Mine. Montana Trout Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, and a coalition of partner organizations, including Montana Environmental Information Center, American Rivers, and Earth Works! initiated legal action to stop the mine on June 4, 2020.

Our coalition asserts that DEQ failed to adequately protect the Smith by awarding a mining permit to Sandfire and ignored the comments of a record 12,000+ people in opposition to the Black Butte project. We also believe the mine threatens Montanans’ constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment. On April 11, 2022, a Montana District Court agreed and vacated the mining permit on July 5, 2022. Unfortunately, on Feb. 26, 2024, the Montana Supreme Court overruled the lower court and reinstated the company’s permit. We are awaiting another hearing on our challenges to the mine’s water rights claims before the court later this spring.

What can I do to help save the Smith?

While the time for public comment on the Mine has passed, Sandfire and others have nearly 700 mining claims on public lands in the watershed. MTU and our partners are continuing to protect the Smith by encouraging the U.S. Forest Service to stop potential public land mining in the area through a mineral withdrawal. Add your name to our petition asking the USFS to take this essential step to preserve the Smith for future generations.

In addition, MTU continues to incur significant costs in our fight to defend the Smith. Please visit our donation page to make a contribution today.

Smith River Protection Timeline

A visual history of our fight to protect the Smith.

Learn More About the Smith River and the Mine

  • Anglers asking for Zero Risk on the Smith River

    Read a letter sent to Governor Steve Bullock signed by over 45 businesses and representatives of Montana’s fly-fishing industry and others who share a grave concern regarding the proposed mine in the headwaters of the Smith River. Their plea is to establish a zero-risk threshold and closely scrutinize every detail of the upcoming mine proposal for its…

  • Tintina Submits Mine Permit Application

    Canadian/Australian mine company Tintina Resources has submitted their application for a mine permit. They are going forward with their plan to mine next to and underneath Sheep Creek, the main and most vital tributary to the Smith River in Montana!! Don’t let another foreign owned mine company ruin our natural resources. Let your voice be heard! Let Gov.…

  • Toxic water can travel much further than 19 miles.

    Click here to read about the tragic news from Brazil. Keep this in mind every time you hear that the Smith River Mine is “19 miles from the Smith”. Help make sure this NEVER happens to the Smith River. Let your opposition be heard to the proposed Black Butte mine project that threatens the Smith River!