Montana has an incredibly strong tradition of hunting, and many of our state's residents work very hard to get some (or all) of the meat that they eat each year during bow and rifle season.
So what does climate change mean for Montana's game species? What do we know so far, and what major questions remain?
The answer is that we know a fair amount about some species, but not as much about others.
Here, we focus on the impacts of future climate change on some of Montana's most iconic game species: elk, waterfowl, pronghorn antelope, and upland birds like grouse and pheasants.
Take elk, for example.
In 2011, we've seen temperatures well above normal here in Montana - in the 70's and even 80's - right up to the end of September. Without cold temperatures to drive elk down from the tops of the mountains, it's just been too warm for elk hunting.
But what might the future hold for Montana's approximately 118,000 elk?
In "Beyond Season's End", a report (see link, at right) that examines the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife in the coming decades, wildlife management and hunting organizations suggest that:
The ways in which plant life-cycles may change in a warmer and potentially drier climate is more difficult to predict: this is an important unknown given that elk and deer births are timed each spring to coincide with the most nutritious plant growth.
Ducks and other waterfowl species may be a very different story, however.
Eastern Montana and the Dakotas' prairie pothole regions contain thousands of small ponds that produce huge numbers of waterfowl each year.
Known as the "Duck Factory," this region has been identified as one of North America's two most important waterfowl breeding areas by Ducks Unlimited.
Rising temperatures and drier summers could have significant impacts on these small ponds in the future, however:
One solution to these threats to waterfowl is to restore pothole wetlands that have been drained in the past for agricultural use, which decreases habitat fragmentation and leads to higher levels of nesting success.
Photo: EJ Peiker.
Colder, wetter winters, which we've been seeing as the climate has become more variable in recent years, can significantly affect species like pronghorn.
In the winter of 2010-2011, for example, uncharacteristically heavy snow across the region led to the death of thousands of pronghorn in eastern Montana.
As a result, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks was forced to issue far fewer pronghorn permits than usual this year for the state's estimated 216,000 antelope.
Beyond the impacts of increasingly variable weather and severe storm events, managers don't have a very good idea about how pronghorn may be affected by our changing climate thus far.
Pronghorn continue to be affected primarily by non-climate stressors, however, such as barriers to migration (like roads and fences) and habitat loss from energy and residential development.
One thing's for sure: reducing non-climate stressors is more important now than ever, along with the development of monitoring programs to allow us to check in to see how species are doing as the climate continues to change.
Severe storm seasons are expected to become more common as the climate continues to change, and 2011 has already been a record year for weather disasters across the United States.
Increasing variability in weather patterns and more frequent extreme storm events have the potential to affect upland bird populations significantly here in Montana:
Hunters have the potential to be a key part of any solution to climate change for a variety of reasons:
What are your hunting clubs doing to help, and how can wildlife managers in your state work to keep ungulate and bird populations healthy in the coming years?
Because, as "Beyond Season's End" puts it: yesterday's programs can't solve tomorrow's problems.