Community Conservation

186 not just for anglers

As we enter the final days until the elections in Montana, TU is checking in with local businesses on why passing I-186 is important to them. This editorial from Stephanie Shammel, a rancher downstream of the Kendall Mine, originally appeared in the Billings Gazette. Check out our Instagram story about other Montana businesses who are voting yes to protect clean water – yes on I-186. Photo courtesy Ecoflight.

By Stephanie Shammel

Our ranch is just downstream from the Kendall Mine. Our family has raised cattle, grain and hay on this land since my husband’s grandfather purchased the place in the 40s.

In the 80s, Kendall, a gold mine, was permitted on the edge of our property.

Today, they call it an “old mine.” But I have children older than this mine – children that went on to get advanced degrees in things like chemistry and environmental engineering and landscape design because they saw what happened to our family and wanted to do something about it.

The mining company told us this was a modern mine. They said we had nothing to worry about.

It was the same pitch mining companies make today, the same pitch they make when saying Montana doesn’t need I-186. They told us the laws were strict enough, that jobs were on the line.

Kendall was in operation for less than a decade. But it’s impact on the land – on my family – will last for many lifetimes.

When toxic pollution flowed down our creek they tried to buy our silence. When we wouldn’t be silent, they tried to bully us, intimidating our family with vague threats.

Soon, they turned to their army of lawyers and tried to sue us into the ground. One day a team of company lawyers toured our property. They came to the house and asked for a drink. We told them where the water came from. They declined and left the house thirsty.

Our experience is not an isolated incident. There are other stories like ours — families unwilling or unable to play David to the mining industry’s Goliath.

It is true that some laws have changed since Kendall was in operation. But it is not true that our water is safe. Montana already has miles of streams polluted by acid-mine drainage, thallium, selenium, lead, mercury and arsenic. We do not need one mile more.

Simply trusting that our water will be protected is not enough. We as Montanans must demand a guarantee.

I-186 is that guarantee.

To be prosperous, farmers and ranchers must care for the land. As the neighbor of a defunct, bankrupt mine, I can tell you big mining corporations don’t take the same approach. Often, their highest priority is profit. If things don’t work out, they declare bankruptcy and move on.

They don’t think about those of us left behind, trying to eek out a living on a landscape scarred by irresponsible mining decisions.

Today, our water is still tested four times a year. We still raise cows and put up hay. But the long-term legacy of toxic mining pollution extends beyond time and money lost.

I will likely not see the day where my family does not have to worry about the water. My children may not see that day.

We are not against mining. Our families homesteaded here. They worked the mines—even died in the mines in Montana. Our family helped make Montana what it is today and our love for this state and this place is everlasting.

This month, we are expecting our sixth grandchild. This child will be a sixth generation Montanan. Someday, we want to pass this ranch on to our kids and their kids. It is our sincere hope that this baby will be born into a world that recognizes the necessity of clean water.

We are voting yes on I-186 because we have seen first-hand what happens when companies are allowed to leave behind perpetual pollution. We’re voting yes because no family should have to go through that.

Stephanie Shammel and her family ranch just downstream from the Kendall Mine near Lewistown, Montana. Learn more at

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…