Ahhhh, summer in southwest Montana, there is nothing
better. The endless mountains, the warm breezes laced
with the sweet smell of wildflowers and pine trees. For
many folks, summer days in these parts are meant for
standing knee deep in cool, pristine, mountain streams
filled with hungry little trout
not human filth!
Say what? This is not exactly what the Montana department
of tourism wants you to hear or visualize. But, hear and see it,
I hope you will. Don't get me wrong, Montana is truly one of
the last best places on the planet, but it is being assailed by
some of the worst parts of mankind.
Filthy, stinking garbage is becoming commonplace in the
woods. I'm not talking about lunchtime wrappers left by
an arrant tourist at a busy boat ramp along the crowded
Madison or Yellowstone rivers here. We're talking
unfathomable trash. Nasty garbage that, more and more,
is finding its way to the "hard to get to" places. These are
places that should be pristine by their very nature. But,
those beautiful spots that have been sacred places to
recharge the soul, are for lack of better words, "under
assault." Frankly, I'm pissed and you should be too.
Growing up, many of us were taught not to leave behind
garbage like cigarette butts or a dreaded aluminum pull tab.
My father, despite all his faults, instilled in me a "life lesson"
of always leaving the wild places better than when we entered
them. As a child, I always thought it a pain to go around and
pick up other peoples stray pull tabs, cig butt's or Spam can
key's, before we pulled up stakes at our camp or fishing spot.
Oh, those were the days!
Up until recently, it was easy enough to pick up the occasional
beer can or worm cup left along the stream bank and pack it
out. I had become to think of it as paying some small dues to
Mother Nature or kind of giving back for what the wild had
given me. Then there was that nagging voice in my head from
dad to go along with it. Lately though, I have noticed more and
more "offensive" garbage appearing in what should be places
filled with nothing but the best nature has to share with us. I
numbly chalked it up to a sign of the times.
Then there was a terrible day this August. This day was
the worst of days on one of my favorite Montana high
mountain trout streams. You're probably thinking:
"Really now, how bad can things be standing knee
high in Montana trout filled waters?" Read on
In summers past, my biggest challenge on this stream was
when to replace the tattered fly due to the "kamikaze"
cutthroat trout that inhabit this piece of Heaven on Earth.
Today, the fish were fewer and farther between but that
was not the problem. More noticeable than the lack of
trout, was the amount of, as well as, the incredibly offensive
trash scattered along the once pristine banks of this gurgling
The bile rose in my throat as I thought to myself, this is still
pretty close to the (primitive) campground; it will get better
the farther downstream I walk. The problem was, the more
I walked, the sicker I got. One could count pop and beer
cans by the dozens. Milk jugs, chip bags and candy wrappers
were stuck in the log jams. Plastic pop and water bottles out
numbered the amount of trout I was catching. Plastic motor
oil bottles a mile from the nearest road, what's next? I rounded
a corner to see my dog curiously sniffing the ground. Upon
further inspection, I see he is nosing a used hypodermic needle
syringe. My God! I'm not walking the L.A. River here. I'm at
6,500 feet elevation, seven miles back an old dirt road and over a
mile from that dirt road in the beautiful mountains of Montana.
What is happening here!
I reached a point where I could fish no more. The trout
obviously have their own set of problems here without me
adding to it. I pulled out a garbage sack from my vest (that
I have begun keeping for these unfortunate occasions) and
started picking up trash on my way back to the truck. To
the aforementioned garbage was added: foam cups, condom
wrappers, plastic tampon inserters, you name it, if it was
disgusting, it was here on my favorite small trout stream.
Finally, I came across something that really set me back in
utter disbelief: A drain unclogging chemical bottle bobbed
up and down in a small back eddy of the stream. I waded
out and scooped it up to put it in the garbage sack, saying
to myself "huh, not too many toilets out here to unclog." As
I started to place the bottle in the sack, I noticed a rattling
noise inside the bottle, so I opened the cap. From the bottle
wafted a filthy stench that I have been told was a tell, tell smell
of Methamphetamine production. The rattling was being
caused by some small round wads of scorched and burnt
aluminum foil. Apparently this is a sign of heating drugs in
tin foil before injection.
Un-believable! People are making and shooting up "Meth"
at the campground upstream, then throwing their toxic waste
in the stream. As I stood there dumbfounded holding this
garbage in my hands, my knees began to buckle and I felt
a tear roll down my cheek. I then bent over and vomited.
After gathering myself, I could feel my face get hot as my
blood boiled over. I "roared" at the top of my lungs as loud
as I possibly could. It seemed that the trout, the stream and
Mother Nature needed someone to yell out a protest on their
behalf. As the sound of our anger echoed through the canyon
walls, I thought to myself we have got to stop this insanity. We
have all got to put our foot down, right here and right now.
What can we do? I really do not know what the best answer
is but this I do know: From here on out, "no more
way!" Like many of you, I was brought up to respect people's
privacy in the woods. After all, many of us are out there to get
away from people and recharge the batteries. No longer. From
now on, I'm going to be nosey. Hopefully, people won't get too
mad with me if I come up to their fishing spot or camp site uninvited
and ask "how are you doing," "what's going on" or "whatcha cookin?"
If there is nothing to hide, they are respecting the wild, hopefully
they will understand and we can have a pleasant chat. If there is
more to it, trust me, there will be repercussions.
Mother Nature needs us all to stand up, "roar" and say "enough is enough!"
Addendum: Kudos to Blair Martinson of the Southwest
Montana Drug Task Force. I contacted the Task Force the day
this happened. He immediately contacted the local authorities and
the US Forest Service. Together they all went up to investigate and
are keeping a close eye on this spot. I also learned and want to pass
this on to all: DO NOT TOUCH THIS STUFF! It is highly
carcinogenic and the experts wear decontamination suits and gloves
when handling. The authorities are very concerned about these people
moving out into unpopulated areas to make this deadly concoction.
BE AWARE ! ~ Don Burton