Future Of Climate Change Will Determine Fate Of Wyoming’s Flourishing Recreation Industry

Although Wyoming is one of the coldest states in the lower 48 of the United States, climate change could have a severely detrimental impact on the state.

Wyoming receives around half its public funding from mineral royalties. As revenue garnered from traditional fossil fuel production continues to reduce, the state’s burgeoning outdoor recreation is seen by many in Wyoming as an important key to the state’s future. The only problem is, this industry is already facing similar existential threats.

“When you combine hotter temperatures and less snow runoff, it has a negative effect on those outdoor industries,” said Alec Underwood, program director for the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Wyoming has the fourth-fastest growing outdoor recreation economy in the nation, providing more than $2 billion in 2023. The state’s top-notch fishing and hunting are some of the biggest economic drivers for recreation and tourism.

Warmer And Drier

Underwood mentioned a 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, a multi-organizational climate assessment of Yellowstone National Park and its surrounding areas, shows there has been a steady decline in overall snowpack in the Greater Yellowstone area since the 1980s. By studying tree rings, scientists have determined that there has been a substantial decrease in snowpack in the Greater Yellowstone compared to the previous 800 years. These are concerning trends not only for natural resource managers and recreationists but also the downstream communities that depend on the water. 

According to a 2022 Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Project poll, 72% of hunters and anglers believe climate change is happening, and a majority agreed that climate change will affect their ability to hunt and fish one day.

This concern was also shared by many recreation stakeholders polled for the Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment. 

Cause And Effect

Hunting is a pastime steeped in Wyoming heritage and culture. As the autumn sun casts its first light across the state’s brown and gold-hued landscape, many people can be found deep in the hills pursuing wild game. 

Elk is one of the most popular animals to hunt in Wyoming, a major draw for locals and visitors from out-of-state alike. 

Cold temperatures and snow in the early fall typically drives elk down to lower elevations where they are easier to track and hunt. But climate change is making those hunts increasingly difficult, as a lack of snow cover and warm temperatures are keeping elk at higher elevations for a significant part of the fall hunting season.

Likewise, in the spring and summer, when snowmelt runoff causes Wyoming’s waterways to bloat to their furthest banks, countless fly fishing anglers can be found knee-deep in their favorite river or creek. Less snow due to climate change means shallower rivers and less fish, a particularly noticeable trend in the late summer and fall, many months removed from the previous year’s snowfall.

Ultimately, a healthy ecosystem directly connects to the quality of hunting and fishing therein, as both sports completely depend on wildlife for their existence. How much is done to fight climate change will have a direct effect on Wyoming’s ecosystem and future economy.