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Missoula County Community and Planning Services
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Missoula County Rural Initiative

Department: Community and Planning Services
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PLACE Project

What is the Practical Landscape Assessment for Conservation and Enhancement (PLACE)?

The Practical Landscape Assessment for Conservation and Enhancement (PLACE) is an effort by Missoula County to:

  • inventory and map information about conservation resources in Missoula County—including natural and cultural resources—with a focus on those that can be affected by human land use and development;

  • help local government efficiently and consistently review subdivision and open space bond projects, using objective information about conservation resources;

  • provide landowners, community groups, and other interested parties with easy access to information about conservation resources in Missoula County.

The landscape assessment gathers existing data from a variety of sources to consolidate into a county-wide conservation resource database and atlas of resource maps. This library of information will make resource data publicly available and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing resource conservation and development measures.

The landscape assessment is a spatial inventory, meaning it identifies where resources are located throughout the county. It is not a complete inventory of conservation resources and it is expected that the inventory will grow as additional data become available for resources of interest to Missoula County residents.

Although the landscape assessment is primarily designed for use by Missoula County government officials, it is expected that interest in and further use of the information will come from a variety of people, including both conservation and development-oriented professionals and groups, as well as individual landowners who are interested in resource conservation or enhancement on their property.


What is a Landscape Assessment? The information is organized
in two forms:
A landscape assessment is a method for looking at resources of interest across a large spatial area, in this case, Missoula County.

PLACE allows us to assess conservation resources throughout the various communities, watersheds, and land ownerships in Missoula County.
1) Conservation Resource Atlas: A collection of countywide maps, each identifying locations supporting various resources of conservation interest.

2) Conservation Resource Database:
A Geographic Information System (GIS) database that organizes and stores data related to conservation resources in Missoula County.

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What are Conservation Resources?

The abundant natural and cultural resources in Missoula County are valued by the people who live here and contribute to the local economy, ecology, and quality of life that make Missoula County a popular place to live and visit.

The PLACE project focuses on natural and cultural resources that are potentially vulnerable to human land use activities, especially in the face of population growth and development, and thus are of particular conservation interest. Many conservation resources exist in Missoula County. Not all have been studied or inventoried, and not all have yet been included in PLACE. The PLACE inventory of conservation resources is intended to grow as additional data become available.

The landscape assessment has thus far gathered existing countywide data on resources in four main categories:

  • Working Lands - Working lands such as farms, ranches, and forests contribute to the local economy, the rural character of communities, the stewardship of streams and wildlife habitat, and the production of local food and wood products. The Landscape Assessment will identify lands currently and/or potentially used for farming, grazing, or timber harvesting throughout the county.
  • Flora and Fauna - While hundreds of fish, wildlife, and plant species exist in Missoula County, a handful are of particular conservation interest because of their rarity, their sensitivity to human disturbance or habitat alteration, and/or their cultural and economic importance to Missoula County residents. The Landscape Assessment will identify habitats and important areas for wildlife and plant species of conservation concern.
  • Human Connections - In Missoula County, places of historic importance and recreational opportunity abound, making the area a popular place to visit and to live. The Landscape Assessment will identify existing places of historic or recreational importance, including trails, parks, historic sites, hunting & fishing areas, and other places that provide community connections to the landscape.
  • Aquatic and Riparian Resources - Missoula County is blessed with an abundance of high quality lakes, rivers, wetlands and groundwater resources. These areas provide water for drinking and irrigating, habitat for fish and other aquatic species, places for recreation and scenic enjoyment, and many other benefits. The Landscape Assessment will identify various aquatic and riparian resources throughout the county.

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Goals of the PLACE Project
The PLACE Project will:
  1. Gather credible information on conservation resources throughout Missoula County for the purposes of better informing land use planning, particularly Open Space Bond project review and subdivision review.
  2. Map resource data, and make the maps available to Missoula County residents and landowners, to improve predictability when considering projects.
  3. Generate additional conversation about conservation and enhancement of resources in Missoula County.

Why Conduct a Landscape Assessment?

As local government, Missoula County has a responsibility to conserve and enhance natural and cultural resources, because they are important to residents who value the clean water, abundant wildlife, diverse recreation opportunities, and working landscapes in Missoula County. These resources are integral to local livelihoods, economies, and communities.

In particular, there are two major ways that the County influences conservation and enhancement of natural resources in our county:

  1. Open Space Bond Program
    In 2006, Missoula County voters passed a $10 million bond to conserve open space in the city and county. County government is responsible for ensuring that tax-payer money is wisely spent on conservation projects, and that the conservation projects meet the purposes of the Open Space Bond fund. Projects are considered according to their potential for offering conservation of the following values:
    • wildlife habitat/native plant communities,
    • water quality,
    • working landscapes,
    • public access/recreational trails,
    • scenic or historic values,
    • other unique/exceptional values,
    • and public values.
  2. Subdivision Review
    The County is responsible for working with landowners who wish to subdivide their property. In addition to providing adequate access, utilities, and other infrastructure to serve a subdivision, there are other factors that must be considered in subdivision review including minimizing impacts on natural or cultural resources. The Montana Subdivision and Platting Act requires counties to consider the impacts of a subdivision on:
    • agriculture
    • agricultural water user facilities,
    • local services,
    • the natural environment,
    • wildlife,
    • wildlife habitat,
    • pubic health and safety.

Resource data used to inform open space bond project review and subdivision project review is already available and used for informing project review. However, resource data is not always easy or efficient to access. Natural and cultural resource information is held by various resource management agencies and organizations, exists on a variety of scales, and can be difficult to find. Missoula County previously conducted an inventory of conservation resources, but this information has not been updated since 1992. Through PLACE, consistent, reliable and current conservation resource information will be mapped and made available for government officials, as well as landowners, conservation professionals, development professionals, and others.

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About the Data

Missoula County has not created any new data, but rather has compiled and organized existing data from a number of different sources. The landscape assessment has gathered conservation resource data that are:

  • Objective data from credible sources
  • Available county-wide
  • Pertinent to discussions about subdivision (growth and development) or Open Space conservation

There are likely other pieces of information that are important and available in Missoula County and can be considered for inclusion in the database as it is developed. A critical part of the Landscape Assessment is review by resource experts and members of the public. We’ll be looking for input on other resource data as the landscape assessment develops.

All data come with caveats and limitations. It’s important to understand such limits, and to not mis-use or over-rely on the data. There is always room for additional information and site-specific review. Complete information about the sources and limitations of specific data sets are available in the Conservation Resources Atlas, available soon through Rural Initiatives.

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How the County Will Use the Data

The County currently uses conservation resource data for subdivision review and open space bond project review. The data consolidated by the landscape assessment will provide more consistent data in a more efficient and effective manner for continued use in these reviews. This conservation resource data will not be the only information considered, and will be used in addition to site visits, landowner information, and additional information as required by Open Space Bond project criteria and Missoula County Subdivision Regulations.

Other Ways the Data May Be Used

Potential uses for the County - In addition to aiding in subdivision and bond project planning and reviews, data gathered through the Landscape Assessment may be useful for answering additional questions, informing future planning efforts, supporting requests for conservation funding from other sources, and other projects that are important to people in Missoula County.

Potential uses for others - Landowners as well as development and conservation professionals or groups may wish to use the data to inform their own projects, or to have more information when bringing projects into county project review.

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How to Become Involved

The PLACE project is a work in progress. We’d like to share the landscape assessment concept, the conservation resources database, and the conservation resources atlas with you as the landscape assessment is being developed. Your feedback and input are important and welcome. There are several ways to stay involved:

  • Contact the Rural Initiatives office.
    Office address: 317 Woody Street, across from the County Courthouse in downtown Missoula
    Mailing address: 200 W. Broadway, Missoula, MT 59802
    Phone: (406) 258-3432
    Email: (send us an email to be added to the RI monthly newsletter for project updates)
  • Attend an informative presentation and view maps and displays. We work with Community Councils and community groups to offer presentations and opportunities to discuss this work with Missoula County residents. Check with your Community Council or check our meeting schedule to learn about presentations during summer 2010. Or contact the Rural Initiatives office to schedule a presentation for your group.
  • Provide feedback and information. Let us know about other sources of data or other conservation resources to consider including in the landscape assessment. Let us know how this information might be useful in your community.  We’d like to hear from you. Fill out a PLACE feedback form or contact our office.
  • Stay tuned. This project will evolve as we receive feedback and additional conservation resource data. Stay in touch and be part of the discussions.
  • Access the Conservation Resources Atlas maps online.

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Last updated 2010/04/08

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