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Outdoor operators urge Senate to pass climate legislation

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While our Senate leaders decide whether to begin debate this summer on the nation's first comprehensive climate change and energy legislation, businesses like ours in Montana and throughout the nation are concerned about the impacts of climate change on our $3 billion a year tourism and recreation economy.

While our Senate leaders decide whether to begin debate this summer on the nation's first comprehensive climate change and energy legislation, businesses like ours in Montana and throughout the nation are concerned about the impacts of climate change on our $3 billion a year tourism and recreation economy.

The oil spill and it's devastating impact on the Gulf region's fishing, recreation, and tourism economy have magnified the true costs of fossil fuel dependence. The fishing industry is at standstill. Related jobs are being lost. These economic impacts will only continue to spread.

If we fail to address climate change and invest in a clean energy economy, there's also plenty at risk for Montana's recreation and tourism industry. Tourism is Montana's fifth largest employer. More than 10 million visitors come here annually to hike, camp, fish, raft, hunt, ski and enjoy our state's breathtaking scenery. Nonresident travel alone generates over $230 million dollars in state and local tax revenues each year.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Glacier National Park, we see that climate change has begun to affect Montana's parks and wildlands.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there will be no glaciers in Glacier Park by 2020. In parts of Montana's high country, mountain goats, pika, wolverines, and other high elevation species are beginning to lose their alpine habitat due to higher temperatures, reduced snowpack, and the climbing treeline. In the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, grizzly bears are back on the endangered species list because a major part of their food supply is at risk because of to changing conditions.

And, dozens of popular camping spots on public land around Yellowstone could be closed as a result of widespread bark beetle infestations.

Montana jobs also hang in the balance. Montana's parks and wildlands sustain 45,000 jobs, support rural economies, and generate more than a billion dollars in personal income each year — all at risk from climate change and our failure to invest in clean energy technologies.

Bark beetles and wildfires are a natural part of our forest ecosystem.

Yet, higher temperatures for longer periods including the lack of the necessary deep freeze to kill off beetle larvae along with drought conditions are fueling more severe outbreaks of bark beetle infestations that kill our trees and then create the buildup of fuels that put us at greater risk of more severe and larger wildfires.

With wildfires in the western United States already increasing fourfold in the past few decades, this will further threaten tourism numbers and dollars coming into our state.

Montana ski resorts and businesses that depend on winter recreation also will suffer the impacts of climate change.

With shorter ski seasons, many resorts must make more snow to compensate for a snowpack that, in recent years, has diminished to as much as 50 percent of normal levels. Mountain snow sports that need reliable snow conditions provide about $66 billion to the U.S. economy.

Outfitters are also at risk. In recent years, at the height of summer tourist season, 29 of Montana's best known trout streams were closed as flows decreased and water temperatures rose. In addition, general big-game seasons have been extended twice because wildlife is remaining at high elevations due to milder weather conditions resulting in reduced snowpack.

The failure to put America on the path to true energy independence could cost us dearly. Luckily, our senators recognize that our thriving tourism and recreation economy depends upon protecting Montana's environment and natural resources.

The survival of this important industry demands that Congress takes swift action on a national and international level, not only to mitigate the impacts of climate change, but also to transition quickly to a safer and more sustainable energy future.

We need strong, comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this year to protect existing recreation and tourism jobs, safeguard state and local revenues, and create thousands of new, good paying clean energy jobs in Montana.

A recent economic analysis from the University of Illinois, Yale University and the University of California shows that by 2020, comprehensive climate and energy policies alone could create up to 13,000 jobs in Montana and increase average real household income in Montana by between $599 and $1,736 per year.

Setting good policies that allow us to make the right investments in clean energy now isn't just good stewardship; it's sound, sustainable economic policy and investment for the long haul.

We must act now when opportunities to take advantage of the clean energy economy are great. Or, we can do nothing and risk the very livelihoods, income and benefits we enjoy from Montana's rich outdoor heritage.

From The Great Falls Tribune

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