We were lucky enough to have a 4 day trip on the Smith River last week, floating from Thursday to Sunday. I, personally, have become a big fan of April trips…sometimes the weather is great, sometimes the fishing is great, and sometimes, both are awful. Well, we lucked out on the weather (for the most part), as for the fishing…not so great. I boated two fish the first day, both on nymph rigs. Craig had a few fish chase streamers on day 1, and that was about it. Regardless, we had a wonderful time floating, and enjoying the scenery. The willows were budding, the wildflowers were peeking out on the hillsides, and the geese were noisy, as usual. Big thanks to Al, Art and Bobby, who held down the shop while we were all gone.
We also had the opportunity to tour the proposed site of the Black Butte Copper mine. One of our friends, Lacey Morrison, who is a native of White Sulphur Springs, and a geology graduate from University of Montana – Western, in Dillon, encouraged us to do it (Thanks Lacey!!). She set up a meeting at the Tintina Resources headquarters in White Sulphur Springs, which was then followed by a trip out to the Johnny Lee copper deposit. There has been a lot of discussion from folks at the local, state and even national level about this specific mine. The Smith River is 19 stream miles downriver from the proposed site on Sheep Creek, which is a major tributary for the Smith. Sheep Creek is an important spawning ground for the fish, and also provides a lot of the cool water for the Smith, especially in the hot summer months. Because of this, and other reasons related to the Black Butte Copper project, the Smith has been added to the American Rivers “Most endangered rivers” list.
Proposed site of Black Butte Copper mine, 20 miles north of White Sulphur Springs
First off, I learned far too much in this 5 hour tour to write about here. That being said, Jerry Zieg, who is the V.P. of exploration, and Nancy Schlepp, who is the P.R. director, both did a fabulous job answering our questions. I can tell they are very passionate about this project, and as native Montanans, they really care about the preservation of everything White Sulphur Springs and the Smith River have to offer to the public. Secondly, I encourage anyone who opposes the Black Butte Copper project to go visit these folks, or read the information on their website. Many of the opposition issues I had read about prior to the tour have been researched, explained and documented.
The initial application for the mine permit that Tintina submited has come back with some problems. Additionally, Montana TU has hired an independent review of the application. Their findings can be found here. If Tintina is granted the permit to mine this area, I feel that it will be after a very thorough investigation by Montana DEQ, and other independent consultants. The state of Montana has stricter regulations regarding mine permit applications than the rest of the country (which is regulated by the EPA, whereas Montana is regulated by MT DEQ). There is still much hesitation in my mind about this mine project, and more questions about how Tintina is going to prevent environmental disasters, but I think they are taking their time to evaluate all the possibilities.
All in all, I think educating ourselves about both ends of this battle is important. We were told by the management at Tintina that we are the first outfitters to come through and do the tour, and listen to what they are proposing. I hope that other people who are passionate about Montana rivers, the trout that live in them, and our incredible outdoor opportunities will take a little time to fully understand all aspects of what is being proposed.