Planting trees for Butte

Saturday, September 14, at Noon at the Lexington Mine Yard in Walkerville, is our city’s chance to get busy planting some more new trees for the future. It’s a free, family-friendly event led by Butte-Silver Bow (BSB) local government and Montana Tech’s Native Plant/Restoration Ecology program. This is the second tree-planting event this year. Back in April, 120 volunteers planted 1,000 small trees and shrubs in less than an hour. Come green up Butte’s future!

Read More

Here's to the "Green Collar" workforce...

Superfund has had its grip, so to speak on Butte, Anaconda and the Upper Clark Fork River basin for over 30 years. Over $2 billion is spent to date cleaning up and restoring the watershed, from the top of the hill in Walkerville to the removal of the Milltown Dam over a hundred miles away near Missoula. The work has been completed in fits and starts, for sure. And even though it hasn’t been perfect, Superfund is arguably as vital to Montana’s economy as it is to our environment.

Read More

"There's plants growing in them thar tailings!"

Tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa) is a perennial bunchgrass native to Montana and most of the U.S. It is known regionally within the Upper Clark Fork Superfund site for its unique tolerance to grow in highly acidic and heavy metals-laden tailings deposits. These two photos show a stand of tufted hairgrass growing along a tailings berm on Blacktail Creek and a few, tough individual plants sprouted from the vertical walls of the Silver Bow Creek “slag canyon.”

Read More

Matrimony Vine: a noxious weed for better or for worse!

“A plant for better or for worse.” So named because once you have it growing, “you’re married to it,” Matrimony Vine (Lycium barbarum) is a sprawling, thorny bush that grows in Butte where most other plants cannot. I’ve seen it growing on mine dumps, in tailings, on bedrock outcrops, on steep, bone-dry hillsides and along disturbed roadways or streambanks. While most noxious weeds detract from wildlife habitat, this plant is actually a favorite of local birds and pollinators and even small mammals, as it creates thickets of vegetation to hide in where nothing else can grow.

Read More

Butte, MT: "Headwaters of the Columbia River?"

Where did the myth that Butte is the headwaters come from? 

While it’s not certain, the most likely individual to blame for misinforming us is copper king William A. Clark. When Clark built the once famous Columbia Gardens amusement park here, he named it in honor of Butte’s location (in his estimation) as the headwaters to the Columbia River. Keeping in mind that Clark also bribed his way into Congress and once boasted it was the arsenic in the air from his smelters that gave Butte’s ladies of the period their lovely complexion, it’s understandable how he might have gotten a few other things miserably wrong. 

Read More

Getting to know your reclaimed Superfund site.

Superfund revegetation isn’t your standard landscaping. Don’t expect to see a county worker mowing and manicuring the grass like you see being done at the park or on a golf course. Also, don’t expect to see the reclaimed areas in Butte being irrigated. While many of the plants that grow on these sites are beautiful (like bird’s foot trefoil in the photo), they have a job to do, first and foremost.

Read More

"It Takes a Village..."

Here In “Butte America” we live with Superfund everyday, but it does not define us. This photo shows the “Field of Honor” from 2015, which sits atop the reclaimed cap on the Belmont Mine. Not only does the cap serve a new purpose, but the Belmont engine room now serves as Butte’s Senior Citizen Center, where hundreds of the Mining City’s seniors gather each week for lunch and life. In fact, the grassy amphitheater in front of the Original stage where thousands of visitors danced and enjoyed the music of the Montana Folk Festival last week is yet another example of a Superfund cap. For the most part in Butte, we’ve got Superfund well covered!

Read More

Keeping the Waste in Place

“…It’s encouraging how much Butte’s Superfund reclamation programs and practices have evolved and improved. The rudimentary “waste in place” actions of the 1980s, which drew little public support and much concern can now be considered best-in-practice for mine reclamation and should leave the public with much less to worry about. Simply put, in 2019 reclamation in Butte has become a “breeze.”’

Read More

Salmonflies, Montana and water quality

The famed, annual salmon fly hatch on our Big Hole River is wrapped up for another year. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, well, it’s quite an event. Naturally speaking, the salmon fly hatch is that time of year when this giant stonefly species, Pteronarcys californica, which is three-plus inches long, crawls out of the water, hatches into an adult, mates and then returns to the water’s surface to lay its eggs, thus continuing the cycle. The hatch only occurs on a handful of Montana’s rivers, making it very special, both in nature and to the fly fisherman.

Read More

Butte cleanup comment period extended

The deadline for the public to comment on the EPA’s revised cleanup plan for Butte’s urban Superfund site, Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit (BPSOU) was extended by 30 days. Last Tuesday, June 11 at close of business was supposed to be the deadline for citizens to submit comments to the agency. But before that original deadline expired, EPA announced an extension that gives folks now until July 11 (a Thursday) to weigh in.  

Why? 

Read More

Stormwater – here’s the rundown on runoff…

One of the hottest topics of public discussion when it comes to the proposed plan for cleaning up Butte’s urban Superfund site is the waiver for copper and zinc levels during storms. I’ve already covered this waiver in a couple of my previous columns, so I won’t go into great detail again. But the long story short is that instead of our creeks being required to meet state water quality standards for both dissolved and particulate substances (in this case, copper and zinc), they are required to meet the federal standards, which only apply to the dissolved fraction. Both standards are protective of humans and the environment.

Read More

Butte Superfund: Then, Now and Yet To Come.

Last week, I explained more about the EPA’s proposed plan to modify the cleanup of Butte’s urban Superfund site, the Butte Priority Soils Operable Unit, or BPSOU. Specifically, I made a statement that the proposed waiver of specific state water quality standards for copper and zinc is not a “free pass” by any stretch. This is true first, because of all of the cleanup work that’s been done since 2006, when EPA released its first “record of decision” for the BPSOU.  

Read More

What’s in the EPA’s Proposed Plan for our Creek?

If the Superfund cleanup for Butte’s urban area were a marathon (it’s actually been much longer), then the EPA’s recent release of the Proposed Plan signifies the final mile before the finish line. We’ve covered most of the long, grueling distance, but there are still a number of significant strides needed to break the tape, so to speak.

Read More

A Welcomed Return

I’m very honored and excited to be back on the printed page with “Restoring Butte” here in The Butte Weekly. This is my fourth column series, and the first one since 2005 when I authored “The Thirteenth Stool,” a title given by the late, great Rick Foote, who was the Weekly’s editor at the time.

Read More