Montana’s Smith River

Loved by anglers, floaters and families alike, the Smith River might be one of Montana’s most iconic rivers. As the only river in the state requiring a permit, it draws applications from across the country – holding a permit, especially during the prime season, is truly a stroke of great luck.

Photo by Pat Clayton

Located south of Great Falls, the river is known for its vibrant fishery, rich history and it’s once-in-a-lifetime multi-day float through rolling meadows, dense forests, and deep limestone canyon.But even loved as it is, the Smith is under threat from a proposed mine on one of it’s most important tributaries, Sheep Creek. Sandfire Resources, formerly Tintina Resources, a foreign owned mining exploration company (that has never operated a mine) has proposed putting an underground copper mine next to Sheep Creek in the upper Smith drainage.

The creek joins the Smith at the popular Camp Baker put-in and accounts for a large percentage of flows in that section of the river. It is also an immensely important spawning tributary, playing host to fish that travel hundreds of miles from as far as the Missouri River to spawn. The company claims the mine will be safe but experts are not as certain. TU contends this is the same story Montanans – indeed Westerners as a whole – have heard for decades. In reality, the risk for groundwater depletion, reduction in flows and acid mine discharge are all very real possibilities – too real to put such an important river at risk.

For more information, go to