When Giants Die
[T]he surging vogue of environmental activity with its enacted legal authority required large staff efforts and capital outlay for plant and other alterations, without providing tangible compensation in the form of increased productivity. —Vincent D. Perry, "Anaconda Geology, Its Origins, Achievements, and Philosophy"
I wouldn't believe anything a mining company would tell you. —Shirley Ashby, longtime Blackfoot River fisherman, 1996.
I HAD CRAWLED MY TRUCK two miles up a steep, four-wheel‐ drive track through dense, stunted Douglas fir. Just below a break in slope, unable to see the next stretch and not wanting to back down anything more twisting and precipitous than what I had just driven, I stopped, jammed a large rock behind a wheel, tightened my boots, and began climbing.
I emerged from the timber onto a south-facing slope. The air was heavy with the perfume of wet sage, and wildflowers blazed around me. Farther up-slope, the track broke sharply to the right, toward the Divide, but I turned left and wandered westward along a ridge. The sun warmed my left arm and cheek, while my right side felt the damp of last winter's snowdrifts still clutching at the shade ofwhitebark pine. A mile later, atop the highest point on this nameless ridge, I stopped. Red Mountain and its snow‐ jacketed neighbors crowned the northwestern horizon. Virescent forest and lush meadows nearly surrounded me, but the idyllic scene was imperfect. To the north, miles of narrow roads criss‐ crossed the timbered mountainsides from the Mike Horse Mine west to State Highway 200. Nearly invisible from the highway, and now mostly overgrown with lodgepole pine, the roads materialized three decades ago.
More than the abandoned waste dumps, more even than the iron-stained stream in Mike Horse Gulch, the roads characterize the district's recent history. I can avoid individual rock dumps and