Save Our Smith

The Smith River is not a location for another failed mining experiment.

**The Latest**

In February 2024, we received the unfortunate news that the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Smith River mine. This ruling overturned a District Court victory, which had blocked the hardrock mining permit for the mine and invalidated the MEPA analysis.

Even though this decision reinstates the operating permit for the Black Butte Copper Mine, the mine still needs some crucial permits, including a right to use the full amount of water at the proposed operation, which is being challenged. This case will be heard before the Montana Supreme Court in Missoula on March 29 at 9:30 am in the Montana Theater (in the PARTV building) at the University of Montana. This hearing will be open to the public.

This decision is a setback, but the fight to protect the Smith River isn’t over.


Montana’s Smith River is renowned worldwide for its clean water, rugged canyon scenery, and blue ribbon trout fishery. The Smith is Montana’s only permitted recreational river. The permitted section of the Smith River winds 59 miles through a remote canyon in the Big Belt Mountains. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks classifies the Smith River’s fishery as high-value, owing to its bountiful population of rainbow, brown, westslope cutthroat, and brook trout. The canyon walls of the Smith also boast some of the best examples of Native American pictographs in Montana.

A small Canadian mining start-up, Tintina Resources, has partnered with Australian mining firm Sandfire, and has submitted an application to the state of Montana to build a massive copper mine at the headwaters of the Smith River, on the banks of Sheep Creek. You can read a critique of the comments here. The mine would drop below the water table, and Tintina would have to pump water out of the mine to keep it from flooding. The pumped wastewater would contain arsenic and other toxics. Tintina’s proposed copper mine is particularly concerning because it will mine through sulfide minerals, which when exposed to air and water can react to form sulfuric acid in a process known as acid mine drainage. Tintina is also planning a major expansion beyond their original permit application, and has purchased several mineral leases and claimed several forest service tracts. Montana has a long legacy of mining projects that have contaminated our rivers and streams. The Smith River is not a location for another failed mining experiment.

Our organizations have been present with our members at every public hearing and event surrounding the mine, submitted numerous technical reports to different agencies in order to influence the permitting process, held rallies to get the attention of the decision makers and the media, and in the process created a committed movement of people, from all walks of life and backgrounds, that would like to protect the Smith River forever.

The fight’s not over.

April 2022 Update

On April 8, 2022, a Montana state judge ruled that officials with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality failed to conduct an adequate review of the proposed Black Butte mine on the headwaters of the Smith River. She ruled that the permit issued by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was “arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.” This ruling will bear significantly on the viability of the Smith River mine, because without a permit, there can be no mining. Of course, the fight is not over. The judge’s ruling is almost certainly going to be appealed, and Sandfire (the company proposing to mine in the Smith headwaters) can always re-apply to the DEQ for an amendment or another permit. However, it’s worth celebrating this milestone, because the wind is now at our backs and the fight to permanently protect the Smith is one step closer to reality.

Broadly speaking, the judge ruled that the DEQ specifically failed to justify a number of aspects of the permit, including the management of the tailings storage facility, the review of the tailings storage facility, and alternative storage techniques for the tailings. DEQ failed to adequately explain or address these failures.

Most immediately, the judge has requested briefs from all of the parties by late May on the “remedy,” associated with her ruling (i.e. what the judge should do with the permit now that she has found it to be flawed). Additionally, once the district court proceedings wrap up, DEQ has already loudly proclaimed that it will appeal the ruling to the Montana Supreme Court, where another legal fight will have to take place. Should the Supreme Court uphold the district court order, Sandfire could potentially apply once again to the DEQ with an amended permit.

Read the full press release about this ruling: Smith River One Step Closer to Protections From Black Butte Copper Mine After Court Ruling.

Read the Smith River Defender from May 2022 for more information about this ruling and what comes next.

October 2021 Update

We’re in a new round of the same fight. In 2020, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit for the mine, and we immediately took the agency to court for some very serious flaws in its permit that directly threaten the natural wonders of the Smith River.

We’ve also intervened in Sandfire’s attempt to acquire water rights for the project at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Thankfully, Sandfire cannot actually start mining unless it acquires these water rights and until it posts a reclamation bond for the actual mine. These processes could take years to play out, during which time we will continue our fierce advocacy on behalf of the Smith River and keep you updated on how you can help.

Places like the Smith River are rare and dwindling. If the coronavirus pandemic has shown us anything this past summer, it is that we desperately need places like the Smith River to nourish our souls and give us hope that better days lie ahead.

Download and read the latest Smith River Defender here. If you’re not on the mailing list, send us a message and we’ll add you.

The Battle for the Soul of Montana

A copper mine threatens the iconic Smith River. It will bring jobs and the copper needed for a renewable-energy future, but is it worth the risk to one of the last pristine waterways?

Click here to read the full story in Rolling Stone.


About the Smith

(c) DH Brown Photography (5)Montana’s Smith River is renowned for its spectacular scenery, towering limestone canyons, and blue-ribbon trout fishery. It originates high in the Castle Mountains of central Montana, and flows through remote canyons before it empties into the Missouri River about 10 miles downstream of Great Falls.

It is Montana’s only permitted river due to the exceptional public demand to experience its fishing and recreational opportunities. And, it’s an important economic engine – generating upwards of $10 million in economic activity for Montana. A portion of the river is managed as a State Park, featuring an incredible 59-mile stretch of river with only one put-in and one take-out point.

The Smith River and its tributaries provide crucial habitat and spawning grounds for regional trout fisheries. The Sheep Creek drainage accounts for over half of tributary spawning of rainbow trout in the Smith River drainage, and rainbow trout have been known to travel nearly 200 miles round-trip from the Missouri River to spawn!

The Smith River depends on clean cold water from its tributaries to sustain the aquatic life within its banks and the agricultural operations along it. Demands on the river’s waters already often exceed available flows in many years, creating challenges for downstream water users.

The Risks

Smith-River-Mine-MapA small Canadian company, Tintina Resources, has partnered with Australian mining firm Sandfire Resources and applied for to develop a large copper mine directly adjacent to and underneath Sheep Creek at the headwaters of the Smith River in central Montana.The project, known as the Black Butte Copper Mine, is located approximately 20 miles north of White Sulphur Springs in central Montana.

The proposed mine is particularly a concern because the mine will have to dig into sulfide minerals, which when exposed to air and water, can react to form sulfuric acid in a process known as acid mine drainage. Acid mine drainage is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic life.

Groundwater pumping from mining activities could potentially lower the water table, and create a “cone of depression” that extends to the Sheep Creek alluvium – posing a threat to adjacent stream flows. The Smith River, and Sheep Creek, already suffer from low flows during most years, putting pressure on downstream water users and preventing the fishery from reaching its potential.

Groundwater that is captured in the tunnel will contain arsenic and other toxic substances that pose a serious threat to water quality.

Tintina is also planning a major expansion from their original application materials. Tintina has purchased several additional mineral interests in the Smith River basin, stretching from their original project proposal to the west, and much closer to the Smith River. This expansion could turn the west side of the Little Belt Mountains into an industrialized area.

Map of Potential Tintina Expansion

While Vancouver, B.C. headquartered Tintina Resources is managing the project, Sandfire Resources recently purchased a controlling stake in the proposal, meaning that major decisions will now be made by a board of directors located over 8,000 miles away.

The Petition

Thank you!

Contact Governor Bullock & the Montana DEQ

This petition is now closed.

End date: Jan 01, 2021

Signatures collected: 11441

Signature goal: 10000

11,441 signatures

073Smith042413_markedWe collected more than 11,000 signatures to send to former Governor Bullock and Director Livers to let them know that the Smith River is an incredibly important place for the people of Montana and across the country and world, and should not be sacrificed for temporary and risky mining activities.

Check back often for more ways you can help protect this valuable natural resource.

Bumper Stickers

Bumper stickers are still available! Drop us a line if you’d like one. Let us know how many and in what color, and where we can send them.

Bumper Sticker



Derf Johnson
Montana Environmental Information Center
(406) 443-2520

Bonnie Gestring
(406) 549-7361


The Battle for the Soul of Montana

Rolling Stone, 4/15/2021

Helena City Commission adopts Smith River resolution

Helena Independent Record, 10/17/2016

Tintina touts potential for 50-year mining district

Helena Independent Record, 2/28/2016


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