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 believes 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. While the company recently began building the initial infrastructure for future mining operations, the mine is not yet operational and we believe this fight is far from over.

What can I do to help save the Smith?

The EIS public comment period is now closed to official comments. We still encourage friends of the Smith to send letters to the editor of your local newspaper, or a Montana paper if you live outside of Montana. You can also write to MT Governor Greg Gianforte and the Department of Environmental Quality

Follow this link for talking points and guidance for making your letter more impactful, as well as contact information for the Governor’s Office and DEQ.

In addition, MTU will be incurring significant legal costs in our fight to defend the Smith. Please visit our donation page to make a contribution today.


WSJ article highlights repeated mine failures

History is full of mining leaks, spills and downright disasters that have at least impaired and at most wreaked havoc on the streams, wildlife and landscapes around them. Far, far fewer are the stories of "harmless" mines, maybe because they don't exist. The problem is that mines bring hazardous material from underground - where they're safely locked away - to the surface where the companies and taxpayers then have to deal with them. At that point, the wastes are ticking time bombs, waiting to go off when it's least expected. (more…)

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