The Burk/Brandborg Award

Barbara Evans - 2003

Barbara Evans
Barbara Evans

As Barbara Evans said regularly, she “cared about the critters.” Whether it was tending to her backyard frog habitat or dropping off dog and cat food at no-kill shelters, animals were one of her great passions. Barbara made history as not only the first female commissioner of Missoula County, but also as a member of the first all-female commission in the United States alongside Ann Mary Dussault and Janet Stevens. Barbara had a remarkable 28-year political career. To this day, she is the only Missoula County Commissioner to get elected for four terms. Though Barbara was a Republican, she called herself a “Republicrat” as she cared more about the issues and her community needs than party lines.

In the beginning of her career, Barbara was a hardliner in politics. Her love for the “critters,” however, drove her to bipartisan cooperation especially regarding the Milltown Dam. After receiving word that the decaying Milltown timber crib was leaking in three-foot geysers, and the devastating fish-kill that would result if the dam broke, Barbara informed the press without hesitation. She was unflinching in her determination to remove the dam. Barbara took on ARCO, the Montana Power company, and insisted the EPA keep her in the loop during the process. Due to Barbara’s efforts, she was able to get Governor Judy Martz and the Bush Administration on board which averted an imminent environmental catastrophe. In 2004, Barbara received the Missoula Conservation Roundtable’s Burk-Brandborg award for her relentless endeavors to remove the dam.

Barbara cared about access to public lands for both humans and wildlife alike. She made regular trips to Washington DC to lobby for Federal funding for public space acquisitions including Mount Jumbo and the backside of Mount Sentinel. Barbara also helped to secure $5 million in Federal funding for the Milltown trails systems as part of the restoration, half of which she presented to the town of Anaconda to aid in downriver renewal projects. For those that knew her, this gesture showed how much she cared about Montana, not just Missoula County, as a community and landscape. Her compassion and concern for animals compelled her to seek and acquire the funding for what became known as Dawn’s Crossing (a wildlife underpass beneath Highway 93 in Ravalli County). Dawn’s Crossing is located at the site of the highest wildlife-vehicle collision rates in Montana.

Barbara was a unique individual; she was a Republican in a blue county, she garnered bipartisan support to protect her community, and she doggedly pursued assistance to safeguard the Montana landscape for future generations. Barbara retired in 2007 leaving a political legacy unmatched in Missoula. She passed away March 23, 2023, at the age of 88.

By Kym MacEwan

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