Montana Outdoors

September 26, 2007

A river in peril

I have been posting fall photos of a section of Thompson River here in western Montana. There are three in this post and three more that I will post later. It seems important to me not to just show some scenery that I think is truly beautiful, but to show this river for what it is and has been. It may not be this way much longer.

The land bordering the river over its southern twenty miles until it flows into the Clark’s Fork of the Columbia is part of the Lolo National Forest: it is owned by all of us. Along the rest of the river upstream however, including the stretches where these photos were taken has been owned for a long time by the Plum Creek Timer Company.

Plumb Creek historically managed its land for lumber use, and as such served as a sort of separate extension of the forest: its ownership was transparent. Now, Plumb Creek is no longer a timber company, but a REIT (real estate investment trust). They are now actively engaged in not only the sale of their lands but in a rapidly growing number of cases, the development of them.

Possibly and in my opinion probably, this prime view property will be sold or developed for very high-end homes, trophy homes perhaps, for the pleasure of the very wealthy. Much of it is already being heavily logged, and my guess is that, as soon as the REIT decides the profit will be at the maximum, will be sold or developed. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong, but I don’t think so. The days when photos like these can be taken here are most likely numbered, and I shudder to think of what the quality of the rest of the river could become if the upstream portion is developed.

Thompson River

Thompson River

Thompson River



  1. Great shots Tom, hate to hear about the development, what sucks is a lot of these people building these homes come here because they love nature, and yet , won’t accept the fact that they are doing the most damage to it.


    Comment by Bernie Kasper — September 26, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

  2. Most of them are concerned only with what they want. There are now million dollar homes on the beautiful Bitterroot River (south of Missoula) that have their decks almost over the water. One of the local TV stations showed some pictures the other night and I felt ill. That used to be such a gorgeous area. I can see Thompson River becoming like that or maybe even worse.

    There is nothing to stop it out here, no zoning regulations, no land-use planning, absolutely nothing. Now that so many of those with great wealth have lost their respect for the natural world and have denied all things of good conscience, who knows what will happen.

    I have been fortunate to know it in its pristine state and have adapted to all the changes which up to now have been tolerable, but I fear for what it will be like for my children’s grandchildren.


    Comment by montucky — September 26, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

  3. Well here’s hoping it gets preserved, but I know from whence your pessimism comes. Even here, where in a large urban area we still are blessed with quite a lot of open space (not compared to you of course, but compared to many other large urban areas (esp. LA)), every acre is a fight, and development pressure is constant.

    It looks like an area that would have wonderful wildflowering come spring, and certainly has great fall color now.


    Comment by Adam R. Paul — September 26, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

  4. I’m glad you’ve captured this scene for posterity, in case your predictions come true. Hard to meander through a phototgraph and smell the mountain air, however.

    I dearly hope you’re wrong.


    Comment by Pinhole — September 27, 2007 @ 6:21 am

  5. First, I loved the last shot. Onto the environmental issues you raised. It’s frustrating. I know. I spent every summer up on chain lake in Elk Washington. That little town is now being eaten up by homes as close together as city homes – and because of the area (hardly any work other than logging) most locals cannot afford the prices. I spent a good deal of time in Northern Idaho – out of curiosity I looked at land there; one and two parcels of land – at prices and size that the locals cannot afford (because Idaho has the lowest pay in all the united states.) So who will buy them? In 2000, I watched a man who grew up on a 240 acre farm parcel it out and become a multimillionaire – and now a large chunk of the Columbia River will be upscale homes. To a certain extent I think the only real safe land is on the Indian Reservations. Which is probably the saddest comment of all (because we really didn’t give them the best land now did we?) I think most people just do not see what we see. You can make a pretty buck – still between you and I Terry I can’t see this old farmer and his wife being happy in Miami Florida (I know them both very well) however, by that point it’s pretty much too late. It is a really sad thing to watch I can tell you that. I think anyone who loves the wilderness mourns with each passing. I hope your river survives all of this…. (p.s. I still stumble on the idea that the gov’t sells off large parcels of land so big that only lumber companies can afford them – so they cannot even be protected by the privet landowner.) What the heck can be done tho… I think all of these deals are made somewhere in Washington D.C.


    Comment by aullori — September 27, 2007 @ 11:14 am

  6. Adam,

    There are very few ways this river can be preserved, and I haven’t seen or heard anything about any of them. Its salvation might best come from Mother Nature herself by having some of our old fashioned cold, tough winters. Those don’t work well for “trophy homes” in this area!

    Yes, there are some beautiful flowers there, but maybe not as much variety as in higher elevations, surprisingly.


    Comment by montucky — September 27, 2007 @ 6:49 pm

  7. Pinhole,

    I do like photographs, but they’re ever so far away from the real thing. I hope I’m wrong too!


    Comment by montucky — September 27, 2007 @ 6:51 pm

  8. Lori,

    You raised another issue, on the land prices. It’s so right that the younger folks who grew up here now can’t even begin to afford the land prices. There is a 2-acre lot near where I live for sale for $150K and all there is there is electricity and the so-called “view” is terrible because of a huge power line that runs across right in front of it. 13 years ago, that property sold for less than $500/acre, which is about what it’s worth. Unless you’re a wealthy outsider, you can’t even afford to look at it! I’ll take this up later in other posts because it’s a HUGE problem too.

    As far as these huge parcels that companies like Plumb Creek own: many come from the old 19th century railroad land grants. Here’s a link that gives a lot of information about them: I can’t personally verify the accuracy of this information, but it certainly is thought-provoking.


    Comment by montucky — September 27, 2007 @ 7:01 pm

  9. M.

    Here we go again . . . Paul Allen screwed up the Beaverhead and Turner tried to barb wire his river . . . Money talks I guess. Too bad . . . What do you hear about Glacier? You know this administration would love to sell it.

    Dan Hanosh

    Dreams Are Yours To Share
    Warriors and Wars
    The Moon Also Rises


    Comment by Dan Hanosh — September 27, 2007 @ 9:18 pm

  10. Dan,

    I’m confident that Glacier is safe, to be honest, mostly because the economy of a lot of western Montana depends on it as a cash cow, bringing in the tourist money. There’s precious little industry up here and tourism carries the burden. Believe it or not, both Glacier and Yellowstone are safe because of politics (maybe for the wrong reasons). Just how safe I don’t know, meaning that I don’t know exactly how far they will be able to exploit them before too much damage is done.


    Comment by montucky — September 27, 2007 @ 9:29 pm

  11. I can see your pictures in a series of ads or posters or website slide shows with a caption that says:


    I really appreciate seeing your posts about threats to the world the way it was meant to stay.



    Comment by knightofswords — September 28, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

  12. Malcolm,

    Sadly, there are a heck of a lot of people who would answer “yes” to that if it meant a few bucks in their pockets. Only half of the people around here are in favor of forming a planning and development board that would work in only an advisory capacity. They say it would “limit their rights to use their land as they wish” and we both know what that means. The almighty dollar is a very strong force!

    I still haven’t figured out an effective way to work on the issue. This site has pretty limited exposure, and here also I feel like I’m preaching to the choir anyway.

    I’ve been trying very hard to show folks what it’s still like in what’s left of the wild country and maybe that will serve as a reminder so they will pick up on potential activity as it comes onto their RADARs.

    I certainly know where you stand and appreciate that very deeply!


    Comment by montucky — September 28, 2007 @ 4:07 pm

  13. thanks for the link Terry – that is a facinating website


    Comment by aullori — September 29, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

  14. Plum Creek…sounds like a place out of Little House on the Prairie….

    my daughter’s science lab this week dealt with water quality and what happens to it when “development” sets in. I don’t know how many people are using science curriculum like that and if it will be too late by the time those kids are older….not saying we cannot do our part, but just saying that hopefully awareness is spreading….


    Comment by silken — September 29, 2007 @ 8:09 pm

  15. I’m so glad to hear about that sort of thing being studied by the kids. So many adults are either caught up in the exploitation or so hardened to the issues that they simply don’t care any more.

    In my mind there are really two issues. One is simply that we’re rapidly losing much of the beautiful wild country, replacing the forests with structures and acres of grass, and losing access to land that we all would otherwise be free to use and enjoy.

    The second is far more serious. As we look at the large forests of the west we tend to think that they are strong and rugged and will last forever. Although I really don’t know what the numbers are, I think there is a finite amount of forests and wildlands that is absolutely necessary to support life on this planet; some amount that has to exist to maintain natural balance. At the rate at which it is now being exploited, we are in danger of depleting that vital reserve. Those who are actively working on the issue of global warming are getting close to examining that area, but haven’t really addressed it yet. That’s why I’m so concerned about the existing roadless areas.


    Comment by montucky — September 29, 2007 @ 9:44 pm

  16. yes, I see those two issues, particularly when I visit your blog. I also believe there is only a limited amount of resources and that we expected to be good stewards of those resources.

    I know I have mentioned before that American Indian saying about caring for our land for seven generations. My husband and I were talking the other day about how the Indians had such wisdom when it came to using the earth and at the same time, protecting it….


    Comment by silken — October 2, 2007 @ 8:45 pm

  17. Silken, I think often about that Indian concept of seven generations and I heartily agree with it. You know, that’s pretty close to the number of years that it takes a Ponderosa Pine to reach middle age. I believe it was a length of time that, to them, represented nature’s re-generation.

    The old Indians lived very close to the land and understood the natural cycles and I think they understood natural balance too, or at least had a great awareness of it. We “civilized” folks have lost something there in my opinion.


    Comment by montucky — October 2, 2007 @ 9:50 pm

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