Climate change raises concerns for state’s recreation industries

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In the 20 years that Ken Murphy has worked in the rafting business, he has watched the commercial season start increasingly early, more people get drawn to the river by ever-warmer temperatures, and safety concerns lessen as flows have decreased.

Short-term, Murphy said, climate change has been beneficial to Glenwood’s rafting industry.

“In the longer term, would I want my kids to get into the river outfitting business? No, because eventually we’re not going to have the water, we’re not going to have the experience to give our guests,” said Murphy, manager of Rock Gardens Rafting.

From rafting, to skiing, to hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching, Colorado’s recreation industries face a changing future because of a changing climate, speakers said Thursday night at a Glenwood Springs forum presented by the National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups.

Joe Barsugli, a University of Colorado researcher who works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and helped author a report titled “Climate Change in Colorado,” said Colorado already has begun warming, at least in part because of carbon dioxide emissions by humans.

Projections show the state’s average temperatures will rise about another 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050, with increases from current averages being most pronounced in the summers, he said.

It’s not clear whether climate change will bring increased or decreased precipitation to the state.

But it will mean less snow in the fall, faster melting in the spring, lower soil moisture in the summer, reduced reservoir levels and stream flows, and higher stream temperatures for fish, among other water-related impacts, Barsugli said.

“When you dig down deep, it affects nearly everything,” Barsugli said.

Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, said he fears lower stream levels will force Colorado and other states in the Upper Colorado River Basin to curtail water use to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states under a 1922 compact.

Ken Strom, Audubon Colorado executive director, said birds already are wintering farther north and making other habitat changes because of global warming.

If bird species leave or die out in Colorado, that would hurt an important component of a $1.4 billion wildlife-watching industry in the state, he said.

Tom Schreiner, climate coordinator for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said projections indicate climate change could significantly affect a variety of wildlife.

It also could result in the reduction of hunting and fishing license revenues that help pay for wildlife conservation, he said.


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