The Arnold Bolle Award

Jim Carlson - 1998


Jim Carlson
Jim Carlson

“Use good science. Explain things in ways that are important to people. And be persistent.” Jim Carlson applied this philosophy in his 42-year career as an environmental health scientist, supervisor and collaborator in the Missoula valley. His dedication to restoring the health of the land and its inhabitants created lasting impacts for the quality of life in the town we enjoy today.

Jim was born in South Dakota and raised in Minnesota’s Twin Cities. A high school scholarship brought him to a University of Montana summer program in environmental sciences. He stayed to study chemistry and took the pre-medical track, but eventually turned to Environmental Studies for his Master’s, focusing on the impacts of geothermal energy development.

In 1974, Jim joined Missoula’s City-County Health Department as an Air Pollution Control Specialist. The city suffered severe air pollution from lumber and pulp mills and violated federal standards for particulates and carbon monoxide levels much of the year, harming the lungs of Missoula’s children. He worked with citizens, the Missoula City Council & County Commissioners, Chamber of Commerce, Air Pollution Control Board, and the Montana Board of Health and Environmental Science to adopt regulations for wood stove emissions–the first in the country. By 1991, Missoula complied fully with federal and state air quality standards thanks to Jim and his team.

Later, Jim tackled problems with septic and sewer systems. After assessing gasoline spills and well contamination in Missoula, he introduced a bill to the Montana legislature that allowed creation of the Missoula Water Quality District. He worked with EPA to ban disposal of waste automotive fluids in injection wells, removing 250 such sources and requiring that such fluids be properly disposed of or routed through pre-treatment and the public sewer system– to protect Missoula’s sole source aquifer. He also worked with the City and County to extend public sewer to thousands of homes that were using septic systems.

Early in the Clark Fork River Superfund investigations, sampling coordinated by Jim showed arsenic exceeding drinking water standards in groundwater near Milltown Reservoir, resulting in the area’s designation as a superfund site and helping convince EPA to remove Milltown dam.

After the Health Department was given responsibility for Animal Control to ensure enforcement of rabies regulations, Jim worked to improve the lives of abandoned animals. Preferring adoption to euthanasia, Jim found land and funding for a new animal control facility.
Jim received the Missoula Conservation Roundtable’s Arnold Bolle Award, the Conservationist of the Year from the Clark Fork Coalition, and the Pizzini Outstanding Achievement from the Montana Environmental Pulp Association.

In 2016, Jim retired and has been enjoying his well-earned retirement as a grandparent and outdoorsman, still using the canoe he’s owned since he was 16 years old.

By Kalle Fox

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