Railroads & Clearcuts

Anaconda & Butte, Montana

The Montana Improvement Company (MIC) was incorporated in 1882 by Anaconda Copper's Marcus Daly and others. The Northern Pacific Railroads held half of the stock. MIC controlled timber along hundreds of miles of railroad right of way, supplied the railroad with wood, and paid the railroad a rebate. In 1885, U.S. Lands Commissioner William Sparks reported that "depredations upon public timber are universal, flagrant and limitless," and accused MIC with cutting 45 million board feet from public lands. A.L. Stone, an Anaconda publicity agent and later Dean of the Journalism School at Montana University, wrote that "all these elements [MIC] had one common cause. Sparks threatened the defeat of the allies..." The proceedings against MIC were dropped when the federal funds allocated to the case were exhausted. Under political pressure for trying to recover public lands in Wisconsin from Weyerhaeuser, Sparks was forced from office in 1888.

In 1899, Rockefeller and partners bought the Anaconda Copper Company with money raised by selling watered stock. They combined it with other mining operations and renamed it Amalgamated Copper. For decades, Amalgamated-Anaconda operated the mines, battling union organizers, and raking millions in profits.


photo of butte


The mining also created a toxic legacy. "Along the upper Clark Fork sits one of the world's biggest environmental disaster areas--a century of copper mining in Butte (shown in this historical photo) culminated in the largest Superfund hazardous waste site in the U.S., a 140 mile stretch of river between Butte and Missoula. Thousands of tons of old mining wastes have contaminated streams, soil, and groundwater and have sent toxins drifting downriver. These sites--and the cleanup liability--belong to the Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO), which picked them up in 1977 after absorbing the Anaconda Minerals Company." (Clark Fork-Pend Oreille Coalition, http://www.clarkfork.org/superfund.html, Sept. 28, 1999).

The Berkeley Pit copper mine at Butte, shut down by the defunct Anaconda Copper Company in 1982, has filled with acid water and toxic waste, including arsenic and heavy metals; five millio n gallons a day leak from the pit into the mine tunnels; hundreds of birds have died after landing in the pit.

The Railroad Land Grant

In 1907, Amalgamated/Anaconda bought almost a million acres from the Northern Pacific Railroad for 50 cents per acre and 50 cents per thousand board feet of timber. In 1972, Anaconda sold 670,000 acres of this land to Champion International; and it was included in the 817,000 acres Champion sold to Plum Creek Timber in 1993. The land had come full circle, from the federal government which granted it to the Northern Pacific, through several mining and timber corporations, including Northern Pacific's corporate heir Plum Creek, which is now selling real estate to homebuilders, and selling and trading other parcels back to the public at taxpayer expense.