Montana’s Smith River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

April 10, 2018


Scott Bosse, American Rivers, (406) 570-0455

Rich Hohne, Simms Fishing Products, (406) 922-1243

Derf Johnson, Montana Environmental Information Center, (406) 581-4634

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named Montana’s Smith River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018, citing the threat of a proposed copper mine to its legendary trout fishery.

“This is a critical year for Montanans to decide what kind of future we want for the Smith,” said Scott Bosse with American Rivers. “We’re calling on every Montanan who loves the Smith to weigh in on the draft environmental impact statement for the Black Butte copper mine. It’s now or never.”

The Smith River flows for 60 miles through a spectacular limestone canyon between the Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains, emptying into the Missouri River just south of Great Falls. It is nationally renowned among anglers for its thriving brown and rainbow trout fishery, stunning scenery, and incomparable riverside camping. Among the other wildlife that frequent the Smith River corridor are bald and golden eagles, osprey, moose, elk, mule and whitetail deer, black bear, and the occasional grizzly bear.

Australia-based Sandfire Resources America is proposing to develop the Black Butte copper mine underneath and directly adjacent to Sheep Creek, the most productive trout spawning stream in the Smith River drainage.

Removing copper from the ground poses serious environmental risks. The copper lies in a massive sulfide-ore body, which, when exposed to air and water, can produce acid mine drainage. There is also the likelihood that the mine will leach toxic heavy metals into nearby surface waters and produce discharges of wastewater high in nitrates that result from the use of blasting compounds. Finally, groundwater would have to be pumped from the mine, which could partially dry up Sheep Creek and its tributaries, thus destroying trout habitat.

A draft environmental impact statement will likely be released for public review in the fall of 2018. This will be the public’s best opportunity to weigh in on the Black Butte copper mine.

“For many of our employees, the chance to float the Smith River in the springtime is the highlight of the year,” said Rich Hohne, Marketing Director at Simms Fishing Products in Bozeman. “Not only is protecting the Smith critical to our way of life, but it’s also in our economic self-interest. The fishery on the Smith is worth $10 million annually, and it will keep on giving as long as we keep the river clean and free-flowing.”

“Mining has a toxic legacy in Montana,” said Derf Johnson of the Montana Environmental Information Center. “It’s already left us with the nation’s largest Superfund site along the Clark Fork River. Now is the time for Montanans to stand up and declare that we’re not willing to put the Smith River at risk.”

American Rivers recently joined with other groups to launch a campaign to put a responsible mining initiative on the state ballot in November 2018. If the initiative passes, it will allow the state of Montana to more easily deny any proposed mine that requires perpetual water treatment to deal with acid mine drainage and heavy metals contamination. Montanans’ support for this initiative could impact the fate of this project and future mining proposals that could pollute our rivers.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Middle Fork of the Flathead River (2017), Smith River (2015 & 2016), Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers (2014), and Kootenai River (2013).

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2018

  • Big Sunflower River, MS
    • Threat – Army Corps pumping project
    • At Risk – Critical wetlands and wildlife habitat
  • Rivers of Bristol Bay, AK
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, salmon runs, indigenous culture
  • Boundary Waters, MN
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, recreation economy
  • Lower Rio Grande, TX
    • Threat – Border wall
    • At risk – River access, public safety, wildlife habitat
  • South Fork Salmon River, ID
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, salmon habitat
  • Mississippi River Gorge, MN
    • Threat – Dams
    • At risk – Habitat, recreation opportunities
  • Smith River, MT
    • Threat – Mining
    • At risk – Clean water, recreation
  • Colville River, AK
    • Threat – Oil and gas development
    • At risk – Clean water, wildlife
  • Middle Fork Vermilion River, IL
    • Threat – Coal ash pollution
    • At risk – Clean water, Wild and Scenic River values
  • Kinnickinnic River, WI
    • Threat – Dams
    • At risk – Blue-ribbon trout stream

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 275,000 members, supporters and volunteers.

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