Built on Shared Values: County Level Climate Change Planning in Missoula, Montana
A changing climate could deeply impact Missoula County in a multitude of ways and it’s time to plan ahead. That’s the consensus of over 90 local experts and community members who gathered to identify risks and devise adaptation strategies. Missoula County Supervisor Michele Landquist attended and later acknowledged, The science behind climate change is very real and we are beginning to incorporate that element into our decision making. The Geos Institute and Headwaters Economics worked with the Clark Fork Coalition, the local convening organization, to bring the ClimateWise process to Missoula County. (photo: Clark Fork Coalition)
Workshop participants came from all over the county—representing businesses, county government, public works, hospitals, churches, tribes, and the local university as well as other non-profit groups. Their first challenge was to identify values they held in common. Could they brainstorm and agree on what they cared about most in Missoula County?
Yes, a list began to take shape. And the topper that most agreed upon? The region’s supply of clean water. Close runner ups: clean air, outdoor recreation, native fish and wildlife, overall quality of life, open space and local agriculture. Pat O’Herren, the director of Missoula Initiatives said, “It would be irresponsible for an agency such as Missoula County Rural Initiatives to ignore the distinct possibility of climate induced changes, such as accelerating wildfire severity, diminished water supplies, damage to life and property through non-traditional runoff events, and loss of native wildlife populations so valuable to our tourism and hunting economies.” Early on, workshop participants were provided with locally specific, science-based information that projected a range of likely climate change impacts. With that, they named the top five risks to the future of Missoula County's land, water, and quality of life.
- Community-wide changes caused by the movement of people from the south into their community and land conversion for energy production and housing
- Wildfire severity, particularly in the urban-wildlife interface
- Declining snowpack and dewatering of rivers
- Increased flooding and changes in water quality
- Declines and disruptions in native fish and wildlife populations
Through the workshop process, they developed 27 strategies to address those five concerns, including 84 distinct actions they can take within those larger strategies. They worked to integrate those strategies together to reduce conflict and make their efforts as effective as possible. They then identified which government agency or community sector had responsibility for the success of each activity>
Recommendations ranged from supporting the agricultural industry through incentives and education to diversifying their economy to limiting development in the wildland urban interface. They cited a need to leverage efforts and work collaboratively across local jurisdictions and sectors. Finally, they suggested showcasing successful efforts throughout the county and elsewhere as positive examples of what can be accomplished.
To see the full report from this ClimateWise process, click here.
The science behind climate change is very real and we are beginning to incorporate that element into our decision making…. We’re beginning to understand more fully that if you want to get something done—instead of expecting it to come from the top down, say, with federal funding or legislation— it needs to come from the bottom up—and this means local protection of resources for the future. Hopefully others will follow that example.
Missoula Montana County Supervisor
It would be irresponsible for an agency such as Missoula County Rural Initiatives to ignore the distinct possibility of climate induced changes such as significant in-migration, accelerating wildfire severity, diminished water supplies or seasonal water reductions, damage to life and property through non-traditional runoff events, and loss of native wildlife populations so valuable to our tourism and hunting economies.Consequently, regardless of one’s belief in the existence, or not, of climate change, Rural Initiatives is committed to incorporating adaptation to potential climate variability in each of our projects. From mining reclamation to stream course and land owner protection and enhancement tools, adaptation is a fundamental building block that will help ensure the viable economic and resource future of Missoula County residents.
Director, Missoula County Rural Initiatives
For more information:
Phone: 541 482-4459 x303
“Missoula County Climate Action: Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Community”
“The People, Economy, Land, and Resources of Missoula County and Potential Vulnerabilities to Climate Change”
“Missoula County Climate Change Primer”
Canoeing in Missoula County (photo: Clark Fork Coalition)