At the heart of climate change conversation is water: in the ground, running down the mountains, falling from the sky. And as less water becomes available for a growing number of people with competing interests and priorities, leaders from a diverse cross-section of groups in Montana are putting their heads together to come up with a roadmap for the future and a game plan for today.
On. Oct. 21, the National Parks Conservation Association hosted the fifth lecture of its series entitled “Montana’s Changing Climate: Science, Solutions and You” at Flathead Valley Community College. The speakers came from four distinctive organizations: the Montana Audubon; Clark Fork Coalition; the state’s Department of Agriculture; and Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Each speaker agreed that climate change is not only a reality, but a very disconcerting one, noting that each of their group’s efforts depends on snow pack and water levels. They placed emphasis on cooperative policy, without passing blame as to the sources of climate change.
“How do we satisfy all the needs for this water if we’re going to have less water and less snow pack?” asked Brianna Randall, water policy director for the Clark Fork Coalition, a group dedicated to restoring the Clark Fork River basin.
The Clark Fork Coalition released a report called “Low Flows, Hot Trout,” documenting changes in temperature and stream flows, as well as other trends related to climate change, and the impacts on the area’s fish and wildlife.
Ron de Yong, director of the Department of Agriculture, said farmers are well aware of climate change and are taking steps to adapt to it and slow it down. He has personally spearheaded efforts, including co-sponsoring a bill at a meeting for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) that called for the organization to support a national carbon emission cap-and-trade system that allows the agriculture sector to receive credits for greenhouse gas reductions.
Agriculture hasn’t been a big player in past climate change discussions, de Yong said, a trend that is changing. NASDA is a good place to start.
“We have a fair amount of clout because we’re out talking about agriculture in all 50 states,” de Yong said.
Also, de Yong said farmers are growing different types of crops to adjust to a warming climate. Citing an example, he said many crop growers are shifting from spring wheat acres to winter wheat acres because changing temperatures are killing off spring wheat. He said the solution to dealing with a warming world is two-fold: mitigation and adaptation.
“Farmers in Montana are already adapting to climate change,” de Yong said.
T.O. Smith, a biologist for FWP, focused his speech strictly on game animals, saying that the majority of his agency’s revenue comes from sportsmen and reminding the audience how important hunting is to the state’s economy overall.
Smith said “climate change is real, (though) some of you in this room may not agree.” He said loss of range for fish, fowl and big game animals could greatly diminish populations. The wetlands, he said, are drying up, dramatically altering critical habitat. Also, he said northwest Pacific salmon populations could, in a worst-case scenario, decrease by 40 percent in coming years, and bull trout in some areas could decline by as much as 90 percent if current temperature increases continue.
It’s impossible to manage the change, Smith said, but it is possible to adapt to it. But at the moment, the proposition of formulating a plan on how to achieve that adaptation is foggy at best.
“We have no clue what we’re going to do,” Smith said, though he mentioned he hopes to see a clearer plan emerge as FWP begins to hold meetings on climate change.
In December, regional FWP leaders from around the state will meet, with warming sure to be an issue, Smith said. Also, he said FWP has taken steps of its own internally to decrease carbon emissions, such as switching to sedans instead of large trucks and trying to carpool more.
Amy Cilimburg, director of bird conservation for Montana Audubon, said the only effective way to fight global warming is by bringing a vast range of agencies and organizations together.
“We really do view climate change as a solvable problem if we all work together,” Cilimburg said.
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