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Smith River

Limestone cliffs tower

over anglers and boaters in portions of the Smith River.

Rich Landers, Spokesman-Review

Montana’s Smith River made the American Rivers conservation group list of most endangered rivers for 2015 because of a proposed copper mine near its headwaters.

“We choose rivers that face key decisions in the next 12 months,” said AR Northern Rockies Region director Scott Bosse. “With the Smith, the mining plan is expected to be filed in late 2015, so there will be a critical decision point in the first half of 2016. We’re asking people to contact Gov. (Steve) Bullock and ask him to direct state agencies not to permit the proposed mine unless it can be constructed in such a way it doesn’t pose a threat to the fisheries there.”

The Smith made the list because of the potential for Canada-based Tintina Resources Inc. opening a copper mine on 12,000 acres of land along Sheep Creek. That stream is a major trout-spawning tributary of the Smith.

American Rivers estimated the Smith generates about $4.5 million a year for outfitters and surrounding communities, mainly from floaters traveling its 60-mile-long limestone canyon section between the Little Belt and Big Belt mountains. Fishing and camping along the Smith have become so popular, the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department has had to impose a lottery permit system to control overuse.

Tintina Resources has done exploratory activity along Sheep Creek, but does not yet have a full operations permit from the state, according to Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo. The agency would likely do a full environmental impact statement on the project before making a decision, she said.

In February, DEQ approved letting Tintina drill 15 to 20 core sites for geotechnical and hydrologic data, Ponozzo said. The company in March requested a permit to deepen its existing well.

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The rest of the 2015 list included the Columbia River through Oregon and Washington (outdated dams), the Holston River in Tennessee (toxic chemical pollution), Edisto River in South Carolina (excessive water withdrawls), Chuitna River in Alaska (proposed coal mine), Rogue-Smith watersheds in California (proposed nickel mines), St. Louis River in Minnesota (copper/nickel mine), the Harpeth River in Tennessee (sewage pollution), and the Pearl River in Louisiana and Mississippi (proposed dam).

Montana rivers previously on the American Rivers list included the North Fork of the Flathead shortly before Congress agreed to a transborder protection act prohibiting mineral development on the American and Canadian sides of the river, along with the Blackfoot, Kootenai and Yellowstone rivers.

American Rivers is the nation’s largest river conservation group. It has been releasing its endangered river list since 1984.


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