By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula Conservation District has unveiled a new online survey ahead of a series of listening sessions planned this month to gauge the needs and concerns of county residents regarding a range of conservation issues.

Monica Perez-Watkins, the conservation and communications coordinator for the Missoula district, said the information gathered over the next few weeks will help inform the district's long-range plan covering the next five years.

“We work throughout Missoula County, and we want to hear back from county residents on their natural resource priorities and concerns, and use that information to inform our long-range plan,” she said. “We want to see how we can be most helpful.”

The survey includes 14 questions regarding a range of issues related to conservation, resource use and the environment.

While several questions pertain exclusively to large land holders, others ask residents to rank their four top natural resource concerns, from forest health to habitat loss and climate change.

“We really want to see what people are concerned about,” said Perez-Watkins. “We work with a lot of landowners throughout the county, and we want to see what they're seeing and how we can best use our public funds.”

The Conservation District is a political subdivision of the state that helps private landowners and mangers implement conservation practices on land throughout the county. It's also required to administer the Natural Streamed and Land Preservation Act, established as the “310 law” by the state in 1975.

The district's programs range from the Legacy Program, which offers up to $25,000 for large conservation projects with broad support, to the smaller riparian planting mini-grant.

“We also have a cost share program that reimburses landowners for implementing conservation practices on their land,” said Perez-Watkins. “It changed a little for this year, but it offers 75 percent of total costs of watershed improvements up to a certain limit, and up to 50 percent for other conservation practices.”

Jen McBride, resource conservationist with the Missoula Conservation District, said it receives funding through a tax mill levy on real property within Missoula County but outside city limits, as they appeared in 1946.

The new survey will remain open through the end of June. Listening sessions are also set for Condon, Potomac and Missoula.

“We're asking people who are out on the land or managing the land to share their natural resource concerns so we can determine how we can best help them with that,” said McBride. “We're hoping to get as many survey participants as possible.”