Montana’s fly fishing industry needs action on climate change
Even though some politicians in Washington want to keep disagreeing with the science, the effects of climate change in Montana can be seen far and wide. Whether it is the spread of mountain pine beetle infestations, increased frequency of wildfires, or extreme drought, climate change threatens to affect the way of life for many Montanans.
Montana has some of the best fly fishing in the country, with abundant wild trout populations and numerous blue-ribbon trout streams. Montana’s fly fishing industry is a huge economic driver, providing thousands of jobs and bringing tens of millions of dollars in consumer spending to the Treasure State each year. But the industry has already seen negative impacts from the greatest threat to cold water fisheries around the West.
Last year, anglers witnessed unprecedented fishing restrictions on our rivers due to low stream flows and warm water temperatures. According to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 2016 saw a record number of water bodies restricted around the state and some of the earliest closures ever, some beginning as early as late June. In addition to these restrictions, low flows and warm temperatures exacerbated a largescale outbreak of proliferative kidney disease (PKD) in mountain whitefish, resulting in the shutdown of 186 miles of the Yellowstone River to all recreation. The economic impacts from the closure were felt by business owners around the region.
This spring, the above-average snowpack in most of the state gave hope to many anglers that 2017 would be a good water year. However, with scorching heat in the month of July and little to no precipitation, rivers and streams dropped very rapidly, leading to warm water temperatures and subsequent hoot-owl restrictions.
A large-scale interagency study led by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2012 looked at changes in stream discharge in five major Western watershed basins. Comparing stream discharge to historical data from 1950-2009, the study found a common trend across basins of greater discharge earlier in the year leading to less discharge later in summer months.
Though the need for fishing restrictions was non-existent decades ago, they are now the new norm in Montana as climate change is having a dramatic impact on snowpack and hydrologic cycles.
The Montana Wildlife Federation (MWF) has been gathering input from Montana hunters and anglers on climate change for several years. Earlier this year, MWF launched a program to hear from outfitters, guides, and other fishing industry professionals. This effort gives guides the opportunity to meet with local biologists to talk about the effects of climate change already seen in their local rivers. The program also features an opportunity for guides to speak on the issue and brainstorm opportunities to take action.
When anglers and business owners work together, a lot more can be done to combat the negative impacts of climate change. If our elected officials are not working in the best interests of the citizens of Montana, including business owners who rely on our rivers, then they must be held accountable.
Climate change is not a partisan issue and anglers, guides, outfitters and other business owners who care for the health of our rivers are showing the courage to look 50 years into the future and step up to the plate to combat climate change. Sportsmen have long been the stewards of conservation of fish and wildlife. With collective action, anglers can keep it that way and help preserve our outdoor traditions for future generations.