Montana's Smith River among top 10 most endangered rivers

A proposed copper mine near Montana's Smith River has pushed the river into most endangered rivers list for 2015.

The American Rivers, a conservation group that compiles an annual list of the most endangered rivers found that Smith River is number 4 on the list this year due to a proposed copper mine that could affect the water quality and harm fish. The group has been releasing its endangered river list since 1984.

Canada-based Tintina Resources is opening a copper mine north of White Sulphur Springs in the area of Sheep Creek, major tributary of the Smith.

Northern Rockies Region director Scott Bosse said, "We choose rivers that face key decisions in the next 12 months. With the Smith, the mining plan is expected to be filed in late 2015, so there will be a critical decision point in the first half of 2016".

He added that they are asking people to contact Gov. Steve Bullock. Governor will ask direct state agencies not to permit the proposed mine unless it can be constructed in a way that it doesn't pose any threat to the fisheries there.

According to American Rivers estimations, Smith River generates about $4.5 million a year for outfitters and surrounding communities. It was become popular for fishing and camping, which resulted in a lottery permit system by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department to control overuse.

According to Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo, although Tintina Resources has done exploratory activity along Sheep Creek, it does not yet have a full operations permit from the state.

She said that the agency would do a full environmental impact statement on the project before making a decision.