Bitterroot Valley is the Most Resilient Place on Earth to Live

Resilience is the ability to continue functioning in the face of disruption.

If your community was faced with a natural disaster, what would it do? How would it react? Does it have both the physical resources and the social organization required to remain functional in the face of disaster and bounce back in the wake of it?

Resilience, in individuals, organizations, and communities, is defined by their capacity to use the technical, economic, and social resources available within them and to effectively put those resources to use overcoming the physical and psychological challenges they confront.

Take Mexico Beach, Florida for example. In the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, the small oceanfront community has struggled to rebound. Six months after the storm’s passage, damage is still noticeable. Some businesses and residents may never return.

Why are some places like Mexico Beach and Puerto Rico unable to recover from a natural disaster such as Hurricane Michael or Maria, while others like the British Virgin Islands can? The answer is they lack resilience.

What does this have to do with the Bitterroot Valley, you ask?

The Bitterroot Valley has the potential to be one of the most resilient places on Earth to live. With ample sunshine, arable land, water, and timber, Ravalli County is in the enviable position of having the requisite resources on hand to not only ensure resilience, but to be completely self-reliant. The question is, are we taking full advantage of this remarkable opportunity?

A truly resilient system can only be had when the three components of resilience - technical knowledge, material sustenance, and organization - are present. If any one of the three are lacking, the system may well be able to weather small shocks, but it will collapse in the face of any significant event, whether that be from internal or external sources.

Such was the case in Puerto Rico. While the people of the island were quick to pull together to help one another, their society was utterly reliant upon the outside world for everything necessary to rebuild. They lacked the material resources to reconstruct their battered infrastructure, as well as much of the technical expertise, leaving them in a state of incapacitation.

What is the lesson here for the Bitterroot Valley?

It is two-fold. One, that there is a unique opportunity here to create an extremely resilient community, one capable of withstanding both natural and economic disruption. Two, that in order to truly realize that opportunity, the valley’s capacity for self-sufficiency must be protected and, in fact, enhanced through the development of a circular economy.