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Climate change threatens Montana's trout habitat and tourism industry, study says

Montana could lose as much as 35% of its cold-water trout habitat by 2080, a new study says.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, and the University of Montana published a study that looks at how climate change could significantly hamper Montana’s trout fishing industry in the coming decades.

The study analyzed more than 30 years of data on fishing trends across Montana that showcased a huge industry growth since the 1980s, according to Tim Cline, and ecologist with the USGS and the study’s lead author.

“Since 1983 there’s been approximately a doubling in the total amount of angling pressure, as we call it, on Montana rivers," he said.

Trout live in cold-water habitat, meaning river sections that are below 64 degrees Fahrenheit. As high temperatures and severe drought increase with climate change, that cold water habitat will begin to shrink by more than a third in the coming decades, a loss which could cost the state almost $200 million annually in lost tourism revenue.

The study says anglers can reduce stress on Montana trout by spreading out where they fish, and utilizing smaller streams, instead of crowding the same popular rivers.

"The key finding in the study is that the habitat diversity on the landscape provides opportunities for people to find places to fish and to maintain the fishing industry in Montana," Cline said, "even under these extreme events."

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