Skip to content

Could Montana’s Coveted Smith River Be Ruined By A New Mine?

“Thousands apply yearly to travel Montana’s Smith River. Now anglers, ranchers and conservationists fear for its future”

“MISSOULA, Montana — Annick Smith was one of the lucky ones. This year, the 84-year-old writer and documentary film-maker took her first trip down the Smith River in western Montana.

A lazy 59-mile float through deep limestone canyons, green meadows and pine forests that support the best brown trout fishery in the state, the Smith River is so popular it requires a lottery, the only one of its kind in Montana, to keep its fans from loving it to death.

Each year more than 10,000 people apply for one of 900 or so permits, and Smith has been trying to get one for years. “It was on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint,” she said. “And it inspired me even more to protect this river from the mine that could destroy it.”

The mine to which she refers is the Black Butte copper mine, located on 7,500 acres of private land along Sheep Creek, 17 miles from where it flows into the river. In early April, about the time spring had freed the Smith and its tributaries from winter’s grip, the Montana department of environmental quality approved Black Butte and assured the public that it was issuing the most protective hard-rock mining permit in its history.”

Jeff Gailus reports for the Guardian July 29, 2020.