In April, members of Congress joined with the sportsmen’s community on Capitol Hill to review recent scientific findings on global climate change, an event that demonstrated just how far climate science has progressed. Hunters and anglers of all political stripes are taking the issue seriously, and groups like the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Bipartisan Policy Center are leading a nationwide discussion about how science-based management strategies will be essential in addressing the effects of climate change on fish and wildlife populations.
Now this discussion is coming to Malta, where tonight Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey will exchange ideas with what is expected to be a capacity crowd. It will be a lost opportunity if the conversation fails to consider the importance of climate policy that helps conserve our shared natural resources. The Department of the Interior continues to study the nation’s treasured landscapes while it develops forward-thinking conservation strategies. That means recognizing how climate change makes our valuable assets even more precious.
The leading, bipartisan climate science predicts significant depletion of fish and wildlife habitat in the coming decades. So it’s no surprise sportsmen everywhere support the federal government’s efforts to examine the places still worth saving. Dedicated funding for state and federal management agencies is critical in our ability to implement field-tested adaptive management strategies to address these threats.
And climate change does pose a very real threat. Rising temperatures could force fish and wildlife into diminishing pockets of habitat. Elk herds could disperse and upland game birds scatter from what was once far-reaching habitat on the northern prairie and in Missouri River country. Those attending Abbey’s upcoming visit to Malta want the nation’s best answers to these and the other hard questions we all face.
Many of us hunt near Malta, so this time of year we look forward to long talks around the fire. In elk camp, we will have time to reflect on past trips. But precious few opportunities exist to look forward and identify places where we can find common ground. Let’s make the most of Abbey’s visit by welcoming the full range of opinions to the discussion.
There remain those who dismiss climate change science and choose to dwell on the short-term political battles. Most sportsmen choose to take the longer view, and in Montana, when we stop to think about future trips, many dream of antelope near Bitter Creek and elk in the Missouri River Breaks around the C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
In fact, surveys of the state’s rod and gun clubs found that Montana sportsmen prefer to hunt in two places: somewhere close to home and Missouri River country. A TRCP study shows generational bonds between this place and hunting families all over the state. These Montanans will confront climate change in the future when once-productive landscapes no longer sustain wildlife.
This is what we know: Pothole lakes could dry, robbing waterfowl of habitat. Increased carbon dioxide levels could reduce the nutritional value of forage for big game. And as water temperatures rise, fish populations could disappear. The world requires a new and evolving gold standard for conservation. To achieve this, we need input from everyone: the longtime locals, the ranchers, the dedicated scientists, the hunters, the anglers and the solitude seekers out for a hike.
The time has come to collaborate on bipartisan solutions. We disagree about certain things, but across the board, we all want what is best — for the best of what is left.
(William Geer is director of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s Center for Western Lands. The TRCP is a national conservation organization of hunters and anglers.)