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Costs of Inaction: Recreation and Tourism Hard Hit by Climate Change

by Kristen Sheeran • February 15, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

This is another in a series on the costs of inaction – what we will pay if climate change continues unabated.

Recreation and tourism are not just for fun; for many states, they are big business, providing much needed jobs and tax revenue. As resource dependent industries, however, they are also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A recent report by Headwaters Economics details the effects of climate change on downhill skiing and recreational fishing in Montana. In this region, the “crown of the continent”, the majority of jobs, population and income growth over the last three decades have been tied to its natural amenities and resources. Though small relative to the size of Montana’s economy, the report notes that these industries are integral to the “quality of life” that attracts businesses, residents, and tourists to the region.

In Montana, global warming is occurring at two-to-three times the global average. The impacts on skiing and fishing are already evident. As the report outlines, the ski industry in Montana (and elsewhere across the U.S.) will have to adapt to less snow and more variable snow fall, later starting and shorter ski seasons, and changed avalanche and other extreme conditions like landslides from permafrost melting and changed vegetation. Some areas may prove to be no longer viable for skiing; in which case the industry may shift to higher elevations. Operators may have to invest in costly snow-making machinery, water transport and storage facilities. Many ski operators are trying to diversify by offering other recreational activities in winter and summer.  

Montana is a highly sought destination for fishing, especially for native trout. Drought, flooding, and earlier snowpack melt will impact stream flows and water quality. Low summer flows along rivers and streams in recent years have forced the state to close some of the state’s best fishing streams. Warmer water temperatures combined with reduced stream flows will affect cold water fish populations, including endangered salmon. By some accounts, one-third of the current habitat for northwest salmon and other coldwater fish will no longer be habitable by the end of this century due to climate change. To counter some of the impacts of climate change, the report recommends restoring natural stream conditions by removing dams, restoring forest health, controlling noxious weeds, and controlling non-native fish species.

To read the full report click here.

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