Guest opinion: Climate change threatens Montana's wildlife

2013-12-26T00:00:00Z 2014-12-23T17:12:07Z Guest opinion: Climate change threatens Montana's wildlifeBy J.W. WESTMAN The Billings Gazette
December 26, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Acting with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation as our guide, hunters and anglers have been leading conservation advocates in Montana for decades. Our efforts have helped establish unmatched hunting and fishing traditions that form one of the cornerstones to Montana’s way of life. They are also vital to our economic health. Hunting, fishing, and wildlife viewing bring in more than $1.4 billion each year to the state.

To help ensure our outdoor traditions and economy will be around for our children and grandchildren, we will continue to advocate on traditional issues like access, the public trust doctrine, and activities that impact habitats on public and private lands. That being said, it is becoming more and more apparent that hunters and anglers must not rest on these laurels. Another issue has arisen that threatens our hunting and fishing traditions and outdoor economy in a complex and overarching way. It involves the changing climate.

More midges, beetles

Warmer temperature trends on opening weekend of big game season are allowing the animals to stay up higher in the mountains and reducing hunter success. Whitetail deer populations are suffering because higher temperatures are causing an increase in the midges that pass on epizootic hemorrhagic disease. Lower snowpack and earlier runoff trends are reducing stream flows in the summer. Combined with increasing summer heat trends, they are leading to more angling closures on stressed streams in late summer. More frequent and intense wildfires are decimating our forests like never before, and warming winter temperatures combined with more frequent drought have led to bark beetle outbreaks that have killed more than 3.3 million acres of Montana’s forests.

In response to impacts like these, the Bipartisan Policy Center and a coalition of hunting and fishing conservation organizations including Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership created the Seasons End campaign to educate sportsmen, sportswomen, and the public about the impacts of the changing climate.

Use best science

One of the top tenets of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation says that the best science available should be used as a base for informed decision making. The science of climate change is becoming increasingly clear. A U.S. National Academy of Sciences report states, “The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels are responsible for most of the climate change being observed.”

The Fifth Assessment Report just put out by the International Panel on Climate Changes states, “It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” And a recent analysis of all peer-reviewed scientific journal articles related to climate change found that “97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.”

Following our tradition of advocacy based on sound science, as sportsmen we believe it is time to act. We need to encourage the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the National Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to incorporate the potential impacts of the changing climate into their management plans.

We also will have to move out of our comfort zone and communicate with agencies that we aren’t used to dealing with. As an example, the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a new rule that would limit the amount of carbon a new power plant could emit. This is a strong step in addressing the root problem that is causing our climate to change. To protect our outdoor traditions, hunters and anglers need to step up and publicly support the proposal.

Sportsmen have a history of stepping up when something threatens our hunting and fishing. Let’s do it again to help address the changing climate.

J.W. Westman of Park City collaborated on this column with John Borgreen of Great Falls, Stan Frasier of Helena, Kathy Hadley of Deer Lodge and David Stalling of Missoula. All are long-time hunters and anglers and members of Montana Wildlife Federation.

Copyright 2015 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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