Sportsmen Train Their Sights on Most Challenging Prey of All: Climate Change

from Wildlife Promise

No one needs to convince Todd Tanner that climate change is real. The outdoor writer, former big-game guide and lifelong hunter and angler who lives in Bigfork, Mont., knows about the science. He gets the connections between our energy use and what happens to the environment.

Hunters and anglers are seeing the fallout of climate change firsthand. Photo by Lew Carpenter.

But Tanner and plenty of people like him have an even more visceral understanding of climate change. He and other hunters and anglers are living the effects, he said.

“We’re out there. We’re outside hiking the mountains and wading the rivers and wandering the landscapes. When the snow comes late and the elk stay up in the high country until the hunting season is over, we notice. When the beetles overrun a new piece of country and the forest begins to die off we notice. When our rivers are low and warm because of drought and our biologists have to close it down because the fish are stressed from high water temperatures and low oxygen levels, we notice. And when the smoke from October forest fires fills our alleys and blocks out the mountains to the point where we can’t hunt or fish, we notice.”

Tanner explained during a recent press event for a new National Wildlife Federation report, Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis, that he has experienced all those things “right here in Montana.’’  As chairman of the advocacy group Conservation Hawks, he works with other hunters and anglers to educate sportsmen and sportswomen about climate change and make sure that sportsmen’s voices are heard on “the biggest threat we’ve ever faced.”

“Hunters and anglers are starting to realize that we’re about to get slammed,” Tanner said. “Climate change is going to trash everything we care about, the places we hunt and fish, our outdoor traditions and our sporting heritage, our families, our kids.”

For Tanner, climate change is a moral issue. “Somebody has to stand up and say that this is wrong, that we can’t turn our backs on our sons and our daughters and our grandkids. Somebody has to stand up for our values in traditions and for the natural world that we cherish.”

Tanner believes hunters and anglers are the ones to lead the charge because of their numbers, because so many of them are conservative-leaning and can speak to politicians of all stripes – and because they’re on the front lines of the landscape-transforming, climate-change-driven events. He believes sportsmen can help persuade the people who need to be at the table – conservative politicians – to take a seat.

“There are 37 million hunters and anglers in the United States,” he said. “We are the 800-pound gorilla in the group, the one that nobody talks about because we haven’t really made any noise yet.”

A fire-ravaged mountainside and discolored, beetle-infested trees in Colorado’s Poudre Canyon are stark rememinders of climate change’s effects. NWF photo by Judith Kohler.

That will change as more sportsmen make the connection between what they’re seeing in the fields, mountains and streams and climate change, Tanner said.

“And I think what you’re going to see more and more is hunters and anglers who tend to be conservative, who for the most part are a little bit more traditional than maybe some other segments of society, pushing on politicians, particularly red-state politicians, to get involved saying, ‘This impacts me deeply and if you care about me and my family, if you care about our traditions the way you said that you have in the past, then you need to change your mind on this. You need to go to the table, you need to address this.’”

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