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Opinion: Changing snowpack

| March 27, 2024 2:00 AM

After last year’s deep winter, this season has come as a shock, and many of us are wondering “Where is the snow?” Skiing injuries have been prevalent, and with the lack of powderhound tourism, small mountains have been struggling. 

While wetter snows have come to save the spring season at Jackson Hole, other outfits like White Pine and Snowy Range are relying heavily on man-made snow. Others had to close.

Skiers and ski resort owners say they’re losing out on skiing and business. This not only affects the mountains but also local retailers and restaurants. These mountain town economies are acutely feeling the effects of climate change. 

Changing snowpack is just one of the realities of climate change recognizable here in Wyoming and Montana. Low and inconsistent snowpack not only affects our ski and snowmobiling seasons but also greatly impacts our watersheds. This harms our seasonal outdoor industries, our farmers and ranchers, and the landscapes we all know and love. These are a huge part of our economies, and they’re also the most vulnerable to natural disasters and changing weather patterns.

Nevertheless, we can strategically apply existing technologies to adapt to a changing climate in our lifetimes. There are a variety of solutions available to us now that allow individuals to take charge of their climate impacts instead of relying on environmental regulations. 

As communities and individuals, we can reduce our impact on local ecosystems and the pollution that development can bring with it.  Policies that would benefit the ski and other outdoor industries would also benefit agriculture and wildlands management.

Healthy forests are vital for the recreation industry, a key part of Montana’s and Wyoming’s economies. We can urge Congress to allow landowners and agencies to manage our forests for wildfire prevention and climate resiliency. Healthy forests are important to people and communities living in and among the forests. 

Living in these settings depends on moisture. Around here most of the year’s moisture comes from snow. Low snow years impact wildfire season, beetle kill, and hunting and fishing. When there’s not enough water, we all feel the impacts. 

To benefit agricultural producers and forest owners, policymakers can provide resources to them through the crafting of the Farm Bill this year. Farmers, ranchers, and foresters have imperative knowledge of local climates and how best to adapt their land to these changes. Through their responsible management, farms, ranches, and forests can become thriving ecosystems that provide for nature and society. 

In the Mountain West, we can try to work with the changing patterns and prepare ourselves resiliently for the future.  We move forward carefully balancing the risks with the joy of working and recreating in the outdoors.  As some say, while there is no silver bullet, there is silver buckshot to solving climate change.   

Hattie Hobart is based out of Bozeman and Jackson and serves as the Western Regional Director for the American Conservation Coalition, the largest youth right-of-center grassroots environmental organization in the country. See: www.acc.eco 

 Madeline Dalrymple is a volunteer with republicEN.org and the Wyoming state coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (see www.cclusa.org), a nonpartisan, volunteer-powered advocacy organization.

Alex Amonette lives in southeastern Montana, volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and advocates for healthy forests and carbon pricing.  See cclusa.org