There is something indescribably magical about feeling the tug of a trout at the end of your line as you stand knee-deep in a pristine Wisconsin stream. Over 194,000 anglers purchase inland water trout stamps and 175,000 purchase Great Lakes trout stamps every year in Wisconsin in search of that very feeling. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s trout population and the billions of dollars it brings to our state’s economy every year are in serious jeopardy as a result of climate change.
Wisconsin is blessed with an abundance of cold-water streams, including over 10,000 miles classified as trout streams. From steelhead runs in the Root River in Racine to the salmon runs of the Brule River in the north, these streams attract trout anglers from all 50 states. Trout fishing in the Driftless region alone contributes $1.1 billion to the local economy annually, according to a 2009 Trout Unlimited study.
Now, however, trout populations throughout Wisconsin are at risk, according to new data from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts, a group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin and Department of Natural Resources charged with studying the impacts of climate change.
Trout are an exceedingly sensitive fish that rely on cold, clean water to survive. As air and water temperatures increase, fewer and fewer streams become habitable for trout. Our state’s native brook trout require some of the coolest water and are most vulnerable to warming temperatures.
A recent report from WICCI illustrates the magnitude of the problem that climate change poses to Wisconsin’s trout. Wisconsin’s average temperature increased about 1.1 degree Fahrenheit between 1950 and 2006. The report predicts that our state’s average temperature will increase another 4 degrees to 9 degrees by 2050.
A temperature rise of only 4.3 degrees would destroy 94 percent of Wisconsin’s brook trout habitat. Under the worst-case scenario, our state would lose 100 percent of its brook trout habitat and 88 percent of its brown trout habitat. Even under the best-case scenario (an increase of only 1.4 degrees), Wisconsin stands to lose 44 percent of our brook trout streams, according to the report.
Many of the places where we now fish for trout will soon become places to fish for warm water species such as channel catfish.
These are sad and sobering statistics for trout anglers, and they highlight the urgent need to act today to address climate change.
We cannot stop climate change — it’s already happening — but we can avoid the most dangerous and unfortunate consequences if we act now. We already have the technologies we need to reduce our dependence on carbon-heavy fossil fuels; now we need our state and federal leaders to pass policies that put us on a path to a clean energy future.
Doing so will help create jobs, boost our economy, and protect some of our most beautiful natural resources, including the thousands of miles of streams that anglers will visit on Saturday as the trout season begins.
To quote a Native American proverb, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” If we want our children to have the opportunity to trout fish in Wisconsin, we need to act now to address climate change and save this wonderful resource.
Sam Weis is a media specialist at www.cleanwisconsin.org Clean Wisconsin.