Climate Ready Missoula: Building Resiliency in Missoula County

Climate Ready Missoula is an adaptation-focused plan that identifies the greatest climate risks that Missoula County, Montana faces and the potential steps the community can take to address these risks. Formed in collaboration with community organizations and individuals, the plan includes a discussion of climate change projections and scenarios, vulnerability assessments of Missoula County, climate adaptation goals and strategies, and next steps for implementation of the plan. The plan also outlines 12 guiding principles to help focus implementation efforts going forward; the principles emphasize the importance of equity, cultural values, collaboration, science-informed and proactive decisionmaking, ecosystem valuation and cost-benefit analysis, and innovation.

The first two sections of the plan provide an overview of climate change projections and scenarios and findings from a vulnerability assessment. Using data from the Montana Climate Assessment, the plan discusses three different projected climate scenarios. The projections indicate that Missoula County’s summers will become drier and hotter, while the winters and springs will become warmer and wetter. These shifts are expected to contribute to an increase in the intensity and frequency of wildfires, wildfire smoke, and floods in the area. A vulnerability assessment for key sectors of the community was conducted based on the risks stemming from these projected climate impacts. Stakeholders rated the vulnerability risks according to two metrics: how problematic the risk would be in the absence of any action to respond to it and how difficult it will be to respond to the risk. For example, the health impacts from wildfire smoke on farmers in the Agricultural sector was rated as a priority under both metrics.

To address these risks, the plan identifies several adaptation goals and associated actions, which are grouped by the following sectors: 

  • Wildfire smoke, heat, and health 
  • Buildings, land use, and transportation 
  • Water 
  • Ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) and wildfire 
  • Agriculture, emergency preparedness and response 
  • Business, Recreation, and Tourism
  • Energy

Each sector contains one or more adaptation goals, strategies to advance each goal, the vulnerabilities that the goal addresses, and the climate hazard that each action is related to. If an action reduces carbon emissions, its climate mitigation benefit is noted as well.

As an area frequented by wildfires, the plan includes the goals to improve the health and safety of outdoor workers during heat and smoke events and increase the healthcare system’s capacity to respond to wildfires. The plan additionally includes the goals to ensure a clean, reliable, and affordable energy system, enhance the resilience of “hard” infrastructure such as roads and bridges, and address the urban heat island effect by growing diverse urban forests.

Climate Ready Missoula includes 12 principles to guide the implementation process, several of which emphasize equity and inclusivity. The 2nd Guiding Principle of the plan is to “prioritize equity” by championing actions that build resilience while focusing on underrepresented and vulnerable groups.

The 3rd principle, “act with, not for,” advocates for transparency and inclusivity in planning and implementation. Also of note is the 4th principle, to “draw on tradition and culture” by honoring cultural values and traditional ecological knowledge, noting in particular the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as key collaboration partners. The plan acknowledges that the projected climate impacts on Missoula County have the potential to affect the most vulnerable members of the community by increasing inequity, eroding community ties and cultural identities, and diverting local funding and resources. The plan provides an overview of the potential implications of the projected climate impacts on Missoula on underrepresented groups in the community. The implementation of the plan will address these challenges by referencing the guiding principles that focus on equity and inclusion. 


Climate Ready Missoula was inspired by the Geos Institute’s Climate Ready Communities program. The plan was developed through the participation of local organizations and individual community members through two stakeholder workshops, online surveys, and several public meetings. In the first stakeholder meeting, more than 100 participants worked in different sector groups to identify and prioritize climate change risks based on seven projected climate impacts: wildfires, wildfire smoke, higher temperatures, wetter winters / springs and flooding, climate variability, drier summers and drought, and climate migration and population change. In the second stakeholder group, participants worked to develop strategies to address these climate risks, which were refined to develop the adaptation goals and actions in the finalized plan.

The next steps outlined in the plan include the formation of an Implementation Task Force that will work to convene and coordinate smaller working groups. This Task Force will monitor the implementation of the plan, update the plan as needed, and continue to engage the community in collaborative action. The plan also calls for regular reports on progress to the community, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners, and the Missoula City Council. Reviews and updates of the plan will be carried out approximately every 5 years. Successful implementation will require new and durable funding sources such as a local options sales tax that can be allocated partially for adaptation strategies. The plan will also be carried out in coordination with the county’s climate mitigation efforts.

Publication Date: February 22, 2020

Related Organizations:

  • Missoula County, Montana
  • City of Missoula, Montana
  • Climate Smart Missoula


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan
  • Assessment

States Affected:


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