Missoula’s climate plan nears completion; looks to address local impacts as planet warms

Diana Maneta with Missoula County, center, updates the Missoula City Council on the climate action plan unveiled Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, at City Club Missoula. Also pictured are Amy Cilimburg, right, with Climate Smart Missoula, and Chase Jones, the city’s energy and conservation and sustainability coordinator. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The effects of climate change will stop for no one, so a local committee didn’t stop the presses on the draft of the Climate Ready Missoula plan. But there are still a few holes to fill before it’s complete.

At the City Club Missoula luncheon on Monday, leaders of the Climate Ready Missoula project unveiled the draft plan and a new website that breaks the 88-page plan down into digestible bites according to eight subjects, or “sectors,” such as agriculture and water, explaining the actions that people can take to prepare for climate change.

“We can’t adapt our way out of climate change,” said Climate Smart Missoula executive director Amy Cilimburg. “The adaptation strategies are very important, but we also need to address the root cause of climate change, which is reducing our emissions and shrinking our carbon footprint. That way, we’ll be climate ready.”

The plan lays out 67 strategies and 29 goals that came out of a vulnerability assessment of issues and people in the county and a subsequent 2019 stakeholder workshop. Cilimburg said the workshop actually produced 300 strategies, but the project team pared those down to a more manageable and less redundant 67.

Cilimburg and Diana Maneta, Missoula County energy conservation and sustainability coordinator, briefly highlighted a few of the new strategies devised to reduce the risks of climate change in a couple sectors.

In the sector of natural systems, for example, climate change is going to threaten some of Montana’s iconic species, such as westslope cutthroat and bull trout, with warming water, invasive species, physical stress and worsening habitat quality.

The strategies that could reduce these risks include developing robust watershed management plans, creating a watershed fund for restoration after floods or wildfires, and increase watershed resilience to fire by building streamside buffers and supporting beavers.

Cilimburg encouraged residents to explore the rest of the strategies for themselves on the website.

“The website shows how interconnected everything is,” Cilimburg said. “When we first started this, (the goals and strategies) were all mixed together. But it’s very important to understand what’s the vision, those are the goals and then the strategies of how we’re going to get there.”

Missoula students marched last year to protest what they described as apathy by elected officials and other leaders on the issue of climate change. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The team has already taken a lot of public comment into account during the past two years of public meetings, but they still want more. Some aspects are still unwritten, such as what kinds of things may be mandated or ways to measure the plan’s success.

“To be honest, we needed to get this (draft) out to the community, and we will need all of us to help determine that,” Cilimburg said. “We didn’t quite get to that level of detail yet.”

Cilimburg said an implementation task force would determine some of those details. Although the city can’t require certain things in its building codes, the project team is organizing a green-building summit of architects and builders – perhaps as soon as March – to develop other ways to compensate.

The other thing the plan will need is money and commitment from everybody on some level.

“To really move this forward, Missoula will be needing to look for support, whether from the state government or the federal government. We do need extra support,” Cilimburg said. “We hope that there’s a place for everyone. Climate is so big, and it’s such a big lens that you ought to be able to find yourself in there. And maybe add something extra to your plate.”

The project team is accepting public comment on the draft plan until Feb. 3 and has scheduled open houses on Jan. 22 and 24 for comment. It will also be presenting at community council meetings.

Once the plan is finalized, it won’t be a stand-alone document – instead, it should become an amendment of the city and county growth policies, provided Missoula’s leaders approve. Maneta said inclusion in the growth policies could lead to changes in zoning and subdivision planning.

“This is just another example of the city, county and a nonprofit collaborating to tackle a tough issue,” said Chase Jones, Missoula City energy conservation and sustainability coordinator. “This should not be taken for granted. It’s not unique to Missoula, but it is something that is unique about Missoula.”

Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.