Scientist the world over have gushed enough terrifying data on the perils that accompany human-induced climate change over the last decade to where many across the globe are now numb to it. Rising sea levels? Got it. More frequent and more severe storms? Check. Longer droughts? Understood. Ocean acidification? Uh huh.
Even the latest congressionally mandated climate report produced by the federal government (and quietly released the day after Thanksgiving and disavowed by the current administration) offers up dire data—massive crop losses, economic calamities in the billions of dollars and actual human casualties will be laid at the foot of a warming world before this century is over unless we alter our approach to dealing with climate change and alter it quickly.
Sadly, willful political and on-the-ground inaction on climate change continues. Today, we're on course to leave the coming generations a world in environmental peril, where food production will be a challenge, where oceans won't be dependable sources of fish and where hunger for millions could very well become a reality.
But those are global consequences. What about the trout? What does climate change have in store for them? And for those of us who pursue them? The latest scientific data offers this notion:
The last generation of trout anglers might very well be wandering around in diapers today.
Here's hoping this coming generation of fishers isn't forced to give up the pursuit simply because the trout aren't there to pursue. According to real data from real scientists, the loss could be foisted upon them by the inaction of the generations that preceded them, and stubborn governing bodies in the U.S. and around the world that ignored legitimate, peer-reviewed science as proof that the world was changing and that mankind played a starring role in this unfortunate production.
If we continue on the course we're on today—if we continue to emit carbon at today's rate into the atmosphere for the foreseeable future—nearly half of the suitable habitat for all species of trout will be lost to climate change by the 2080s. That isn't a "doom-and-gloom" scenario meant to frighten us into action. It's data, based on research conducted by a host of scientists for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
But wait. That's not all. If we stay the course and continue with our greenhouse gas emissions at today's rate, here's what we can expect to see, when it comes to the decline of the trout we love to chase:
- We will lose 58 percent of our existing cutthroat trout habitat in the West. Keep in mind that native cutthroats are already experiencing drastic habitat loss due to invasive species introduction, water flow changes, development and, yes, a warming climate.
- We'll lose 77 percent of our existing brook trout habitat.
- Our hardy browns? They can withstand anything, right? No. Nearly half of our brown trout habitat will be lost due to warmer temperatures, rainier winters and winter flood frequency.
- We'll lose 35 percent of our rainbow trout habitat.
- Gila trout in New Mexico and Arizona will lose 70 percent of their habitat by 2050 if climate models persist under existing conditions, because the region will see 20-percent reduction in precipitation, according to the 2016 study, "Vulnerability of Gila Trout Streams to Future Wildfires and Temperature Warming," authored by top fisheries biologists in the U.S.
- Here's the big one. Native bull trout stand to lose the most. If we continue on the same climate-change response course we're on now, we stand to lose up to 92 percent of our "thermally suitable" natal bull trout habitat.
There remains a sliver of hope, but only if we act. If we are to protect the country—and the planet—from the worst impacts of a changing climate, the time to act is now. It's time to stand up and realize just what course we're on, and what kind of world we're about to deposit at the feet of our toddlers-turned-trout-anglers.
As the government's new report reads, "Future risks from climate change depend primarily on decisions made today." And the solutions are largely known, starting with a steady, yet rapid, reduction in carbon emissions and a significant investment in climate-resilient infrastructure. The latter likely won't help our trout streams, which are already warming beyond comfort levels for our cold-water loving salmonids. But the former can slow the progression a warming world and perhaps give us time to restore and arm our trout watersheds for what's to come.
And that's where "hope" comes in. More recently released science offers optimism that the work many in the fisheries world are already doing is helping capture carbon and make trout water more impervious to a warming world. Trout Unlimited (full disclosure—I proudly work for TU and have for nearly 15 years), for instance, has been restoring trout waters for decades—only recently have we learned that intact or restored riparian landscapes store carbon at a rate more than triple that of more arid lands.
There is, indeed hope. But that hope lies in action. While some are doing good work to make the planet more resilient to a warming world, others must take on the task of meshing science and politics and put the world on a course correction. In other words, we must do something.
If we don't, our children and grandchildren — and the trout we love — aren't going to like it.
We hate to ask, but ...
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