When Idahoans talk about our favorite state, we invariably mention the outdoors. It would be hard not to. It’s no secret that we have some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in the country, be it boating down the Snake, backpacking in the Sawtooths, skiing in McCall, canoeing on Upper Priest Lake, climbing Mt Borah, fishing in the Owyhees, hunting in the Frank Church, or mountain biking in the Boise foothills. In fact, 79% of Idahoans participate in outdoor recreation each year. Outdoor recreation generates 78,000 direct Idaho jobs and $7.8 billion in annual revenue for the Idaho economy, comparable to the value of statewide agricultural production ($7.8 billion).
However, the reasons why many of us love Idaho: clean air, clean water, and outdoor recreation, are slipping through our fingers. Idaho’s climate is changing. Over the past century, most of the state has warmed one to two degrees (F). Snowpack is melting earlier in the year, and the flow of meltwater into streams during summer is declining. In the coming decades, streams will be warmer, populations of several fish species may decline, wildfires may be more common, and deserts may expand. All of these consequences of global climate change have tangible impacts on outdoor recreation.
Idaho’s rivers are mostly fed by snowmelt. As snow melts earlier in the spring, the ski season shortens. Rapid snowmelt can trigger landslides, debris flows, and flooding, such as the spring flooding that destroyed portions of the Boise greenbelt. Streams and rivers reach their lowest levels earlier in the summer, shortening the window that rafters and kayakers can run them.Warmer water temperatures have a direct effect on fisheries, as fish that have evolved in cold water find pockets of cold water to hang out in instead of migrating all the way up the river. 
Additionally, we are seeing more “rain on snow events” where it warms up enough in the winter and spring to rain on top of the snowpack. This can lead to floods that move big rocks, trees, and hillsides, and change the rivers in terms of how boaters are used to going through a particular rapid, or down a particular stretch. It may be very different from what it was the year before, because new logs have been jammed into the river by high flood water events, or because big rocks rolled down off a hillside, so it takes the degree of skill necessary to run some of our backcountry rivers up a notch. These floods can even make the river un-runnable.
As the spring winds down, longer, warmer summers in the western United States have resulted in four times as many major wildfires and six times as much area of forest burned since 1986. The length of the wildfire season (when fires are actively burning) has increased by 78 days. Increasing wildfires threaten homes and cause air pollution. In early September, Idaho DEQ issued a statewide air quality advisory due to wildfire smoke, ranging from “unhealthy” in Boise to “hazardous” in Northern Idaho. These increasing wildfires, in addition to drier conditions, may expand deserts and otherwise change the landscape in southern Idaho. Moreover it is predicted that in the next 20 years, the number of days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the Treasure Valley will increase from 15 to 60. I personally love living in Idaho because I can go bike, run, hike, or swim outside all summer. As temperatures warm and air quality diminishes, however, it becomes less fun, less comfortable and a potential health hazard to go play outside.
As fall sheds its leaves and turns to winter we hope for lots of snow, but our winters have become unpredictable. Warmer temperatures could lead to more rain and less snow. This already has pushed ski resorts into opening later than usual and closing slopes earlier, shortening the season. A reduced snowpack would melt earlier in the spring, and the cycle of climate change would repeat, eventually robbing us some of our beloved outdoor activities.
Climate change is not going away unless we take action. If we do nothing, Idaho will keep changing. The ski and boating seasons will get shorter, flooding and wildfires will become more severe, air and water quality will be affected, and our current forms of outdoor recreation all over Idaho will suffer. Here are a few easy ways for Idaho businesses to make a difference:
- Participate in the conversation at the Idaho Climate Summit – let’s work together to devise solutions to climate change!
- Take actions towards mitigation – promote renewable energy and energy efficiency
- Plan for unpredictability – identify how climate change affects your business and adapt proactively
-  Outdoor Industry Association,. ‘Idaho Outdoor Recreation Economy Report’. Web. Retrieved October 2017
-  EPA,. ‘What Climate Change Means for Idaho’. 2016. Web. Retrieved October 2017
-  idahoclimatescience.weebly.com,.’Declining Mountain Spring Snowpack’. Web. Retrieved October 2017
-  Solomon, M (Idaho Water Resources Institute), interviewed by Malcolm Moncheur, Oct 2017
- Westerling, A. L., Hidalgo, H. G., Cayan, D. R. & Swetnam, T. W. ‘Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity’ Science 313, 940-943, doi:10.1126/science.1128834 (2006).