City, county leaders tell citizens: Prepare now for climate change

Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick was among the participants in Wednesday’s open house on a new climate change vulnerability report for the city and county. (Laura Lundquist/Missoula Current)

Missoula County and the city of Missoula are trying to prepare the region for climate change challenges and want residents to add their ideas.

On Wednesday afternoon, representatives of Missoula County, Climate Smart Missoula and the City of Missoula talked with a handful of people during the first of two open houses debuting their draft Vulnerability Assessment. They’re taking final comments on the assessment before finalizing the report later this month.

As climate change deepens, it’s likely that western Montana will experience more drought and reduced streamflows, flooding, wildfire and associated smoke. So about a dozen posters in the Sophie Moiese Room of the Missoula County Courthouse displayed colored “vulnerability grids” showing to what extent climate change would affect various aspects of each category.

The nine categories include agriculture, aquatic systems and fisheries, energy, human health, and land use planning and transportation, among others. The spectrum ran from smaller effects in yellow to intense effects in red.

For example, in the human health category, the effect with the lowest risk was sleep loss due to heat and the greatest risk was increased health care costs and more mental health issues.

The assessment arose mainly out of a daylong workshop attended by about 100 people in December. Now that their contribution has been compiled in a document, people attending the open houses or reading online can add their thoughts to the various categories.

Report co-author Amy Cilimburg said the report identifies risks as a first step toward developing strategies to try to offset the risk.

“The opportunity for people is to get a sense of the project and provide input. Maybe we’ve got it all right and we’d like to know that. But hopefully we’ll get input on things we didn’t even think about,” Cilimburg said.

The real work starts once the county and city adopt the assessment. That’s when another workshop will be scheduled so residents and experts can try to come up with ways to deal with all the issues.

Cilimburg said people with varied backgrounds would consider each issue because a solution to one problem might end up making another problem worse. So different people need to be in each group to be able to point that out.

The solutions that come out of that workshop will become the Missoula County Resiliency Plan, which is scheduled to be finalized in the fall.

“This is all the preliminary work so we can figure out, ‘Now what do we do?  How do we actually prepare a community for climate change in the next three decades or so?’” Cilimburg said. “Ideally, the next step will be an implementation task force that will take it to local governments. We’re not trying to write a plan that just sits on the shelf. It’s another lens through which we can look at things. Then it’s how do we integrate this plan into other plans like our land-use plan and our emergency services plans?”

Missoula County commissioners Dave Strohmeier and Josh Slotnik stopped by to read the posters and add comments. But Slotnik said he didn’t have much to add.

“I’m not disagreeing with anything. It’s all looking really well thought out,” Slotnik said.

Another open house is scheduled for May 16 from noon to 1:30 in the Sophie Moiese Room. Public comment on the vulnerability assessment will be accepted until May 19. Go to https://www.missoulaclimate.org/vulnerabilities.html