Climate Change in the 2017 Legislature

Montana’s Leaders Must Address Climate Change Impacts to Agriculture and Outdoor Economies

HELENA, MT – Montana’s next legislature must keep the substantial negative impacts that climate change poses to Montana’s largest industries in mind as they enter the new legislative session in 2017. According to reports released earlier this year by Montana Farmers Union and the Montana Wildlife Federation, climate change poses a significant risk to both Montana’s agriculture and outdoor recreation industries.

Agriculture and hunting and angling advocates were joined by Montana State Senators Dick Barrett and Mary McNally, along with a renewable energy spokesman, in calling on legislators to keep these impacts in mind as they go about their business in the 65th Legislative Session.

“Montanans have spoken clearly. They want to see climate change addressed. Regardless of federal action, they want to see Montana move ahead,” said Sen. Dick Barrett of Missoula. “One responsibility of the legislature is to find a cost-effective path to reducing emissions. Not only are clean energy opportunities available, they’re the most cost-effective paths to reducing emissions and our impacts on the climate. We need to take advantage of them in effective and efficient ways.”

Below are summaries of the reports, released earlier this year. They were authored by renowned Montana economist Dr. Thomas Power and his son and research partner Donovan Power, a geologist who focuses on climate change.

“These reports are a ‘business-as-usual’ look at the numerous challenges that Montana’s most climate and weather dependent industries will experience. We looked at how warming temperatures brought on or made worse by the expected 4-5 degree average temperature increase would impact the folks who make a living outside,” said co-author Thomas Power, University of Montana Research Professor and Professor Emeritus.

“Statewide, we’re looking at 5 to 15 additional days each year when the temperature rises above 95 degrees, coupled with an expected 5-10% less rain in the summer,” said co-author Donovan Power. “And in winter, we expect to see 20-40 fewer days below freezing. This presents Montana with a warmer winter and a hotter and drier summer. The spring melt will come earlier and the summer droughts will become more severe and prolonged.”

Montana Farmers Union Report: The Impacts of Climate Change on Montana’s Agriculture Economy

Climate Change could cost the Montana agriculture industry almost 25,000 jobs and $726 million over the next 50 years, according to MFU’s report, which highlights the serious economic threats faced by Montana’s farmers and ranchers as our average temperatures continue to rise and growing conditions change.

The report found that Montana’s grain production will be affected by changing weather patterns and shifting growing seasons, reduced winter snowpack and summer rainfall, hotter spring and summer days and nights, and expanding ranges of weeds and pests, reducing crop yields by as much as 25% and costing farmers almost 12,500 jobs and $372 million in earnings.

Cattle production will be similarly impacted. Water shortages, increased temperature, and increased concentrations of CO2 will make grass and hay less digestible and nutritious to livestock. This, along with increased competition from weeds, is predicted to reduce the productivity of the rangeland cattle industry by 20%, costing ranchers just over 12,000 jobs and $364 million in earnings.

“Montana farmers and ranchers are already seeing impacts from changes in our climate. Our report shows that these changes could very well cost our industry and the families who make their living on the land dearly,” said Chris Christiaens, Montana Farmers Union Legislative Director. “With prices low and costs as high as ever, we need to do everything we can to make sure farmers and ranchers can continue producing even as our climate brings more challenges. Montana Farmers Union is committed to ensuring our agriculture industry remains robust, even in the face of serious challenges from changes in our climate.”

The full report can be viewed & downloaded on the Montana Farmers Union webpage:

Montana Wildlife Federation Report: Impact of Climate Change on the Montana Outdoor Economy

Climate change endangers Montana’s outdoor heritage and economy. That’s the conclusion of a report released by the Montana Wildlife Federation earlier this year. It could mean a loss of 11,000 jobs and $281 million in income due to stream closures, lost hunting opportunities, wildfires, and reduced snowpack.

Decades of scientific research indicates that climate change is altering Montana’s natural resources in many ways, including:

Less snowpack in the high country means less runoff for our streams, the runoff will come earlier, and streams will run warmer. Reduced angling will mean 1,800 lost jobs and $49 million in lost labor earnings.

  • Wildlife will stay in the high country for longer periods both because they will seek cooler temperatures there and they will not be pushed down by early winter snowfalls. Reduced hunting will mean 1,600 lost jobs and $39 million in lost labor earnings.
  • Skiers and snowmobilers will face shorter, warmer seasons with less snowpack. Ski areas will be forced to make more snow. Snowmobilers will be forced to travel farther and higher to find favorable conditions. Reduced snow recreation will mean about 1,500 lost jobs and $37 million in lost labor earnings.
  • Visitors to Montana and residents alike will face hotter summers and a significantly longer fire season. Glacier and Yellowstone national parks will see a dramatic decrease in visitation. Reduced park visitation will mean the loss of 3,300 jobs and $94 million in labor earnings.
  • Montana’s world-class wildlife watching will become more difficult due to wildfire, reduced habitat, and changes in animal behavior. Reduced wildlife watching will mean the loss of 2,800 jobs and $61 million in income.
  • Wildfires in Montana are predicted to double by 2050. At the same time, more and more Montanans are projected to build their homes on the privately owned land adjacent to public forests, putting development and wildfire on a collision course. This will result in potential annual losses of 227 homes worth $53 million.

Climate change is a threat to Montana’s wildlife, our hunting and fishing heritage, and ultimately our outdoor economy,” said Dave Chadwick, Executive Director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “This summer’s closure of the Yellowstone River due to the outbreak of proliferative kidney disease is just one example. Now is the time to reign in greenhouse gas pollution. Doing so would limit the damage done to our outdoor way of life and save billions of dollars in hard economic costs to be borne by Montanans today and long into the future. It is vitally important that state legislators consider these climate change related cost to our outdoor economy when they are making decisions about Montana’s energy future during the upcoming session.”

The full report can be viewed & downloaded on the Montana Wildlife Federation webpage:

Montana’s Renewable Energy Opportunity

Montana has some of the best renewable energy potential in the country, and a vast majority of that potential is in rural areas. Moving to cleaner sources of energy, which would reduce the amount of climate-changing carbon pollution, would be a win-win as for rural counties where tax revenue and good-paying jobs are needed.

Further, more than half the energy produced in Montana is currently exported to buyers on the west coast who are increasingly demanding cleaner energy. While coal will certainly be a part of the energy mix in Montana for years to come, we must listen to our customers if we want to continue as an energy exporting state.

“Montana’s renewable energy industry is growing,” said Andrew Valainis, Executive Director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association. “Rooftop solar alone has seen an average growth rate of 30% over the past five years. Montana’s wind potential ranks among the highest in the country, and yet wind energy makes up 7% of our State’s total energy production, leaving room for significant expansion. MREA and our members are excited about the growth we are seeing in the clean energy industry and will continue to be supportive of policies that will help further this upward trend.”