Editor’s Note: This story is part of “River in Peril,” a four-part series produced by reporters and photographers from The Montana Standard, and videographers from the Helena Independent Record.
Read about River in Peril:
The summer of 2021 posed grim challenges in the Big Hole Valley, and current dry conditions suggest 2022 could be similarly challenging. Many stakeholders agree that the river flowing through the valley is now in peril – facing threats from climate change, prolonged drought, irrigation withdrawals, pollution, heavy recreation use, development and more. Over the past several months, Montana Standard reporters and photographers have worked on this four-part series, which runs Sunday through Wednesday. Stories examine the past and present of the Big Hole River, the many factors impacting the quality and quantity of its waters, and how groups with competing interests are collaborating to save what many believe to be “Montana’s Last Best River.”
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The Big Hole River stopped being pristine soon after white men arrived and commenced trapping beaver, mining for gold and silver, felling timber, cutting roads, smelting copper, growing hay and raising both cattle and Cain.
Yet the Big Hole largely escaped the fate of the Clark Fork River, which was polluted by mining and smelting tied to