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Save the Snow Summit

From left, Josie Coron, Spruce Schoenemann, and Cory Birkenbuel helped facilitate the Save the Snow Summit in Dillon on Friday.

Over the last 65 years, temperatures in Montana have increased by 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

That's according to Kelsey Jensco, assistant professor of forestry at the University of Montana.

And during the Save the Snow Summit at the University of Montana Western Friday, Jensco said rising temperature are just one of many effects brought about by climate change.

About 100 people attended the summit, most of them scientists or agency officials, but Craig Christopherson, of Missoula, said he stopped in to listen to the lectures because he is concerned about what lies ahead for Montana.

“I’d love to see more effort to change the path we’re on,” Christopherson said.

A variety of scientists spoke Friday about climate change’s effects on snowpack, forests, bugs, amphibians, water rights, and Montana’s economic future.

“The economic consequences (for Montana) are severe,” said Spruce Schoenemann, a climate scientist at Western.

Schoenemann and Dillon-based artist Cory Birkenbuel hosted the event.

With more severe forest fires, snow melting earlier, rising temperatures, and drier conditions, climate change will hit home in southwest Montana, many of the scientists said.

Brian Chaffin, a University of Montana professor of water policy, said Montana would see more hoot owl restrictions on rivers. And he predicted that will impact tourism dollars.

“Stream flow is tied to Montana’s recreation economy,” Chaffin said.

Consumer spending on the outdoor economy puts $7.1 billion into the state’s economy and creates 71,000 jobs, according to Chaffin. And 81 percent of Montanans participate in outdoor recreational opportunities, he said.

Because the impacts that scientists anticipate are so dire, Birkenbuel said he hopes more members of the general public will come to the event in the future.

“This is the launching pad,” he said.

Not everyone in the room was a scientist or water professional. A group of 27 students from Helena’s Capital High School sat on a bus for two hours Friday morning to come to Dillon to listen to the lectures.

The juniors and seniors were from Tom Caffrey’s advanced placement environmental science class. The class had just finished studying climate change, Caffrey said.

One of Caffrey's students, Sofie Ingolia, 17, said some of what the scientists talked about sounded familiar because her class had just been studying snowpack.

Michael Bendinelli, 17, said the presentations were meaningful because it will fall to his generation to deal with the damage.

“It’s falling to us — our generation — to figure out how to fix this, if we can at this point,” he said.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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