council county

Missoula's city and county leadership reviewed joint plans to seek clean electricity, improve wildfire defenses and prepare for climate change in a joint meeting on Wednesday. From left are Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg, Mayor John Engen, and Missoula County Commissioners Dave Strohmaier, Nicole Rowley and Josh Slotnick.

Thinking ahead from this summer to 2030, Missoula’s local government leaders committed to steps on clean energy, wildfire preparedness and climate change Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s nice to see there are no pitchforks being wielded and we’re all here for something,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said at the joint session of the county government and the Missoula City Council Committee of the Whole. “If we were ever here for an emergency, this is it.”

The three commissioners, Missoula Mayor John Engen and most of the City Council reviewed three measures on Wednesday. The first was a city-county resolution pledging to use 100 percent clean electricity by 2030.

“We’re not starting from zero,” Climate Smart Missoula Director Amy Cilimburg told the elected leaders. “Sixty percent of our electricity now is coming from wind, hydro and solar, and 40 percent comes from natural gas and coal.”

The resolution puts the city and county on record asking utilities such as NorthWestern Energy to shift away from greenhouse gas-emitting energy sources and toward renewables whenever opportunities arise. The presentation included letters of support from Providence-St. Patrick Hospital, the Associated Students of the University of Montana, Missoula Federal Credit Union and at least 45 more businesses and organizations in the Missoula vicinity. Both the city counselors and county commissioners passed the resolution unanimously.

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Engen followed that with a joint proclamation supporting a city-county Wildfire-Adapted Missoula plan. Developed in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service Fire Science Laboratory and University of Montana fire researchers, it has analyzed the threats of wildfire to the Missoula Valley and identified ways to make the situation better.

A big part of that, according to Missoula District Ranger Jennifer Hensiek, involves getting busy reducing hazardous fuels in the surrounding forests. Prescribed burning and thinning both reduces the chance of catastrophic fires and produces less unhealthy smoke for the local airshed, she said.

“We have an opportunity, and honestly, a duty to think about these things,” Hensiek said. Her ranger district recently won a major federal grant to do more activity like the fuels reduction recently completed in the Marshall Woods and Blue Mountain projects on the valley’s northern and southwestern edges. The plan analysis shows about 177,000 acres around the Missoula urban area is at high or very high risk of wildfire.

The proclamation did not require a city or county vote, although all at the meeting expressed support for continued efforts at getting the community prepared for increased wildfire activity through firewise community preparedness, firefighting resources and landscape management.

To close the two-hour meeting, Missoula County sustainability coordinator Diana Maneta updated the leaders on a climate-resiliency planning process that identifies problems the Missoula Valley may face from factors such as hotter summers, lower snowpack and spring flooding. The process is roughly half-finished, with lots of public outreach coming to develop responses to those problems and find ways of making them take effect.

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