From The Pueblo Chieftain (Matt Hildner):
Bill Geer believes climate change will dramatically change life for fish and big game and the sportsmen who love them. But the former director of the Utah Fish and Game Department didn’t ask the more than 70 people he spoke to Thursday night to back a policy or a political candidate.
Instead, Geer, who now works on climate change issues for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, presented the impacts species have suffered. The partnership’s research found that spring runoff in Colorado has become more erratic and the precipitation regime now includes a greater amount of rain than snow. And it sited a U.S. Geological Survey study that found snowpack in the Rocky Mountains since the 1980s has seen the biggest decline in history. Earlier runoff has made life tough for fish in Colorado’s mountain streams, particularly in August when dwindling stream flows and higher water temperatures can kill fish. Geer’s presentation focused on the dangers those conditions pose to Colorado River cutthroat trout in the northwestern part of the state. His talk did not focus on the Rio Grande basin.
But Jon Harp, the owner of Conejos River Anglers, echoed the concerns with late summer conditions. “There’s no question that the last 10 or 15 years it always seems to be an issue,” he said. Harp, who guides anglers on streams all across the southern San Juan Mountains, said last year’s early runoff would have resulted in widespread fish kills come August had the month not seen steady rains. He said the trout population has seen its most consistent decline in the tributaries of the Conejos, such as the Rio de los Pinos and La Jara Creek, and the lower Chama River in New Mexico. “The los Pinos, if you look at it in May and June and July, it looks like a fantastic trout stream,” he said. “You go in August and it’s just a warm bath.”
But the conservation partnership’s information on elk yielded less clear conclusions. Beetle-killed trees and warmer temperatures in the state’s high-elevation forests will clear forest canopies and allow for more grass and forbs, which would benefit elk.
And while Geer told those who were convinced of climate change’s impacts that they should act, he held out another thought for the unconvinced. “One of the things we don’t know about climate change is where it stops,” he said.