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Smith River Makes "Most Endangered of 2015" List

PHOTO: Montana's Smith River has made the top 10 list for most endangered rivers, issued by the group American Rivers. Plans for a large copper mine are listed as a threat to the waterway.    Photo credit: Fish Eye Guy Photography.
PHOTO: Montana's Smith River has made the top 10 list for most endangered rivers, issued by the group American Rivers. Plans for a large copper mine are listed as a threat to the waterway. Photo credit: Fish Eye Guy Photography.
April 8, 2015

BOZEMAN, Mont. - Montana's Smith River has made the top 10 list for most endangered rivers, issued by the group American Rivers.

Waterways on the list each year are considered at high risk of pollution or other impairments because of development decisions expected in the coming year. In the case of the Smith River, plans for a 12,000-acre copper mine are cited as the risk.

Scott Bosse, American Rivers' Northern Rockies director in Bozeman, described the Smith as one of the most "beloved" rivers in the state.

"It's a 60-mile-long limestone canyon that is known throughout the country by anglers for its wild trout fishery," he said, "and by recreationists just for its spectacular scenery and awesome camping."

The river, noted for its healthy populations of brown and rainbow trout, runs between the Little Belt and Big Belt Mountains to the Missouri, just south of Great Falls. It's listed as No. 4 on the list of endangered rivers.

Bosse said his group has called on Gov. Steve Bullock to deny state permits for the mine unless it can be designed in a way that eliminates any risk to the river's water quality and fish and wildlife populations. That likely is a tall order, he said, because the type of landscape where the copper lies means a high risk of acid runoff, among other things.

"Contamination by toxic heavy metals, de-watering because the mine would have to pump groundwater, nutrient pollution, arsenic contamination," he said. "There are a whole host of threats."

The mining company planning the project, Tintina Resources Inc., is based in Canada and has promoted that it can safely mine the copper. The project would be on private land.

Other rivers on the most-endangered list this year include the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, the Columbia River on the Washington-Oregon border and the St. Louis River in Minnesota.

The report is online at b.3cdn.net.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT