Montana Fly Fishing and Climate Change

Montana is the iconic face of fly fishing.

Trips to its famous rivers are the on the bucket list of many, if not most, fly fishers. What exists in preconception – to those who dream of fly fishing in the state – is more than matched by the reality of vistas of distant mountains, wildlife, and superb fishing for species such as cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. I’ve been a number of times and can’t wait to go back.

And yet, Montana more than other states may now be seeing adverse impacts of climate change that will threaten, if not destroy, the storied fisheries. For example, Montana’s average temperature in 2016 was 3.5 degrees F above its 20th century average – that’s double the planetary average for the same year.

Montana, and nearby states, have recently seen winter temperatures rise rapidly in early Spring to those more common in summer – resulting in rapid snow melt. For those not aware, in the West the slow melt of mountain snowpack is what provides the late summer stream flows of colder water needed to keep water temperatures at a tolerable level for fish.

Those who work the rivers daily, fly-fishing guides, observe the snow melt (called runoff), changes in water temperatures, and the timing of insect hatches and see the effects of climate change.

Yet, as is true of most Montanans, most of them are hare-core Republicans and Trump supporters who do not acknowledge the impacts of humans on that change. At the same time, there a few – though of similar politics – who have listened to scientists and have come away with an understanding that climate change is being caused by human activity, specifically the burning of fossil fuels.

But one wonders: what causes people, whose livelihood depends on cold-water fisheries that are at risk from climate change, to refuse to acknowledge even the possibility that human activity is a causal factor?

I believe it’s due to one of the most destructive trends I’ve seen over the last thirty years. That is the embrace of political ideology as self-identity. Ideological values are internalized and substituted for critical analysis. News organizations and other mass media reinforce one’s prejudices to the exclusion and the demeaning of other points of view.

It is the embrace of a death cult.

Some studies indicate that almost half of trout fisheries in the interior West, including Montana, will be gone in the next 60 years. Many fish species will go extinct.

And it will not only be fish and the wildlife that depend on them. Montana is also iconic as the land of the Big Sky, the land of ranches and cattle. Climate change may cause that way of life to go extinct also.

High Country News has republished an article from InsideClimate News that interviews a number of guides and fisheries biologists on the state of fisheries and climate change.

Montanans refer to their state as the Last Best Place. I wonder if that slogan may ultimately become ironic.

You can read the article here.

Author: Tom

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