Hiker, Holland Lake, Montana

Climate change doesn’t only affect the health of planet Earth; it also affects the health and wellbeing of every person, family, and community who calls Earth home. Conditions like extreme heatwaves, smoke from wildfires, and unexpected weather events pose increased risks of illness or injury. In a new report published by the Montana University System, scientists, physicians, and other experts aim to identify these risks and recommend actions for creating a healthier future.

A multidisciplinary group of researchers, physicians, public health experts, climate scientists, tribal leaders, and other community leaders—including staff from the Center for Large Landscape Conservation—came together to develop the report Climate Change and Human Health in Montana.” The publication seeks to connect ways in which climate change impacts the health of Montanans and recommend actions that communities, health professionals, and individuals can take to lessen those impacts.

In recent years, those who call Montana home have seen record-breaking heatwaves and intense fire seasons. A continuation of this trend could worsen heat- and smoke-related health problems such as respiratory and cardiopulmonary illness. Longer growing seasons and higher temperatures could also worsen allergies and asthma, and scientists even project increased cases of West Nile virus in Montana if the state experiences increasing summer droughts.

The report predicts that the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, those with disabilities or chronic health conditions, and those lacking health insurance or reliable access to healthcare, are at increased risk from these potential health effects.

Other examples of climate-related health risks cited in the report include an increase in water-borne, food-borne, and mold-related diseases due to flooding, and a potential shortage of food like wild game and fish due to climate changes.

“Subsistence hunting and access to first foods—the traditional foods that have sustained us for millennia—are critical components for ensuring the health of Indigenous people,” explains Michael Durglo, Jr., Tribal Historic Preservation Department Head, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “Climate change impacts can include changes in both the access to and abundance of first foods, which requires dedicated monitoring and adaptive management to ensure that we have the foods we need.”

Tribal Nations in Montana have been early adopters of climate change adaptation planning and action.  The report includes contributions from Durglo as well as Gerald Wagner and Termaine Edmo from Blackfeet Nation.

“While impacts are already being felt by people in Montana, the report looks ahead to what might be done to mitigate them,” says Dr. Angelina González-Aller, the Center’s Community Resilience Program Manager. She co-authored the section on Climate Health Actions, which built on the work of the Center’s 2018 report “Healthy Landscapes, Healthy People: A Guidebook for Montana Communities Preparing for a Changing Climate.”

Though the report warns of serious health risks, it also offers hope and guidance, says Dr. González-Aller. “The last section of the report provides specific guidelines and practical recommendations that communities can use as a template for preparing for the future.”

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Join a webinar about the report presented by medical and health research members of the author team. Climate Change and Human Health in Montana: A Special Report of the Montana Climate Assessment will take place February 17, 2021, noon – 1:00 p.m. MST with Drs. Alex Adams, Rob Byron, Lori Byron and Mari Eggers. Register here.


Climate Change and Human Health in Montana,” a special report of the Montana Climate Assessment, was produced by the Montana University System’s Institute on Ecosystems, Montana State University’s Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity (CAIRHE) and Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Environment, with support from the Montana Healthcare Foundation.


Learn more about the Center’s Community Resilience Program