Hunters feel the heat 

A report issued in late April by the Wildlife Management Institute (WMI) warns hunters and anglers to prepare for a new kind of moving target that threatens the future of their sports.

Titled “Season’s End,” the report examines scientific analysis compiled by multiple state fish and wildlife management agencies and private wildlife groups, and predicts a massive, climate-based rearrangement of the habitats that support game populations. According to the 97-year-old critter-centric conservation organization, much of Montana’s wildlife faces a major climatic challenge this century, with highly sensitive species like trout and mountain goats facing the most risk.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has been experiencing these changes for a while, says Wildlife Bureau Chief Quentin Kujala. He says Montana’s recent weather patterns have included mild winters and autumns, which reduces winterkill and hunter success. To help FWP achieve management objectives, the agency regularly alters harvest quotas and season dates. Last autumn, for instance, the agency offered to delay the 2008 general season to coincide with winter’s onset, but hunters balked at the proposed late start.

“But how far do you go into winter until you run into winter?” asks the 15-year veteran Kujala.

A fair question considering last year ranked as Montana’s hottest ever. But while terrestrial species are expected to follow their preferred food sources as they migrate upslope and poleward, fish and other aquatic life lack that kind of life-saving mobility. Instead, warns the WMI report, trout and salmon will experience a 42 percent reduction in their habitat this century, and bull trout will see a 90 percent reduction in “localized, high-mountain habitat of the West.”

Fortunately, says Kujala, hunters and anglers are aware of the changing climate and are willing to alter their behavior so that their quarries might survive over time.

“From the comments we receive I think that there’s a fairly broad awareness among the public,” he says. “They see how [climatic] changes are impacting harvest numbers, both on a personal level by not being as successful when hunting, but also on a cumulative level knowing that hunters are less a part of the management.”
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