I enjoy hyperbolic outrage as much as the next person, but if some tall grass is as “ugly as possible,” you haven’t seen much of Butte. Some local reclamation using “woody debris” is so ugly that, in comparison, grass would be a visual delight. Fire hazard? That’s a made-up issue. Cheatgrass is a fire hazard.

The reason that opinions vary concerning how revegetation should look is that there is no societal consensus. If you turn off Highway 314 for the Decker Coal Mine, one side of the road is mine property. There DEQ has decreed that sagebrush is the pinnacle of revegetation and shrub density defines wildlife habitat. Across the road, the rancher killed his sagebrush to give his cows another mouthful of grass. He would be astonished at the sums spent growing sagebrush on his neighbor’s land. Meanwhile, most wildlife prefers alfalfa.

When I moved to Butte in 1980, I quickly learned that outlooks were very urban, and so they remain. People spoke of distances in “blocks” even when referencing wildlife at a distance. Back then, people used their lawns, which meant bare dirt. Now, the lawn craziness has become epidemic, and half the folks tend the other half’s lawns. This is OK since the NRD Program paid for a new water treatment plant to provide “drinking water,” but we know most is applied to lawns. B-SB is as guilty of water waste as anyone, if not more so.

I recall when BSB sent someone to mow the restored Silver Bow Creek revegetation, expecting sod and irrigation, which is exactly how B-SB would have done it until it became unsustainable. BSB also rushed to remove beaver dams between Butte and Rocker. Once that stopped, the beaver dams got credit for improving water quality by trapping contaminated sediments originating in Butte.

Revegetation’s goal is self-sustaining and self-repairing plant communities with maybe a thought for the bees and the birds. That means flowers and perches (woody plants), not more lawns.

Could there possibly be more important issues? If you sell a nice house in Butte, you may be able to afford an unheated, unplumbed garage 90 miles away in Bozeman. But then Bozeman doesn’t have tailings-in-place. There are bigger remediation issues at stake than the dangers of tall grass.

Rich Prodgers, Butte, has practiced revegetation for 40 years including Silver Bow Creek.  

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