Earth Week 2017: Missoula County’s environment ever-linked to its economy

Gary Matson, secretary of the Bonner-Milltown Community Council, describes the lifestyle of western Montana as “a love of the outdoors and the natural resources Montana has to offer.” (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

By Erika Barnett/Energy Corps

The quality of life in western Montana is unparalleled, and is reliant upon a unique environmental context exclusive to the region.

Missoula County offers a distinctive aesthetic to the many individuals who live, work, and visit here. The western Montana lifestyle would be unattainable without a prosperous and sustainable environment, and the conscious decisions of Missoula County’s administration to protect it.

“Although I have lived in large cities before, I grew up in eastern Montana and have an innate bias toward rural living. Living in the county offers beautiful views and easier access to nature. Life seems slower there, and there’s room to breathe, Commissioner Cola Rowley said of living in Lolo.

Gary Matson, secretary of the Bonner-Milltown Community Council, describes the lifestyle of western Montana as “a love of the outdoors and the natural resources Montana has to offer.” When asked to describe what he believes to be the iconic Montana lifestyle, Matson stated that there isn’t just one. Instead, he emphasized the importance of Montana’s natural beauty uniting all who reside here by stating that there is “no real unifying basics aside from the outdoors.”

Unsurprisingly, the reasons why so many people (about 3.1 million people annually) visit the county are the same reasons why residents love living here. Our environment provides for a variety of employment and recreational opportunities, from fishing and hunting to hiking and camping. Consequently, stimulating the local economy is fundamentally dependent upon a healthy environment.

Missoula County has a powerful responsibility as the local governing authority to preserve its social, economic, and environmental standards. In recent years, the county has advocated for operational sustainability. For instance, the city and county collaborated to ensure SITES certification of Fort Missoula Regional Park, a 156-acre park undergoing a $36 million renovation. The goal of this project is to protect ecosystems and promote environmental stewardship through sustainable landscape design and management.

The county commissioners are committed to moving Missoula County forward in a manner that is responsible to our communities and our environment. Goal 4 of the 2016 Missoula County Growth Policy states that we will reduce Missoula County’s contribution to climate change while promoting resiliency and adapting to its impact on the natural environment and communities.

In order to accomplish this goal, the county is hosting its first Energy Corps member: me!  I am responsible for developing the county’s baseline Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory, which will allow the county to monitor emissions over time and measure how new practices and policies affect energy consumption. I will also coordinate creating a Climate Action Plan, which will reveal emissions reductions targets, set realistic emission reduction goals, and outline practical methods of adaptation in a changing climate.

As we embrace new avenues toward environmental sustainability and economic development, we hope to cultivate a healthy environment as well as a culture committed to environmental stewardship in order to protect our communities and iconic Montana-lifestyle for present and future generations in Missoula County.

Erika Barnett is Missoula County’s first Energy Corps member, serving as the sustainability coordinator.