Pity Montana. Everyone wants a piece of it. Most desire its trout streams, the solace of its open spaces, its stunning mountains. Mining companies want the metals buried beneath this incomparable landscape.
Hardrock mining is
already big business in Montana. But it could soon get bigger. A
giant, open-pit gold mine may operate next to a river, a silver
mine may tunnel under a wilderness area, and the state's already
largest mine may triple its size. The Treasure State is struggling
with the questions posed by these new or expanding mines, trying to
imagine its future both with and without them.
The debate is intense. Industry warns against dependence on the New
West's baggage of low-paying service jobs. As an alternative,
industry points to the well-paying workingman's jobs it provides
and emphasizes the bonds this creates to other Montanans who see
themselves as doing "real" work, whether they are ranchers or
loggers or auto mechanics.
would like Montanans to remember mining's destructive and lasting
footprint on the land and to have faith in the state's evolving
economy. They also argue that hardrock mining is unstable, as the
recent dive in the price of gold shows.
every resident of this huge, economically weak, rapidly changing
state is being drawn into the debate. New political coalitions are
forming as Montanans try to decide the immediate question: Should
three mining companies be allowed to open huge pits or to tear down
mountains in order to take publicly owned ore?
This special issue on mining tells the story of Montana's attempt
to define itself. It will be followed on Jan. 19, 1998, with a
broader look at mining with stories on reclamation, a gold mine in
California that has improved the land around it, and the
possibility that the mining industry can change its culture, and
thereby its ways.
Stories begin on page