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Tourism in the age of climate change, particularly longer, more intense fire seasons

Jerry Brady
Jerry Brady

In the age of climate change, how will Idaho attract visitors?

Tourism planning starts with the obvious: All four seasons will be hotter. There will be less snow, a smaller snowpack and more rain. Rivers will run dry, soil will fry. Wildfires will be earlier, later, hotter and larger.

Wildfire smoke oppressed us this year in July, historically a month early. We fanaticize that this was a “one-off,” but science says otherwise. Since 1983, Western wildfires acreage has increased eightfold. Acreage will double by 2050, says a Harvard study, and fire season now lasts much longer.

About 30 percent of Idaho’s out-of-state visitors come from west of Colorado. How many more massive Western fire seasons will pass before those from the East – and international visitors – just stay home? The rest of our visitors come from Western states. Inhabitants of the increasingly uninhabitable Southwest will not only vacation here, they will move here. Other Westerners may practice tourism by smoke avoidance: at the last minute, head for the least smoky destinations.

So what to do?

Bogus Basin looked at the science and invested in snowmaking and summer recreation at altitude. Smart move.

Wasn’t spring glorious? So plan more tourism for spring and fall.

The Idaho Tourist website starts with this: “Summer is Short. Childhood is Shorter. Plan Now.” It then lists Shoshone Falls, Bruneau Sand Dunes and Craters of the Moon as popular destinations. Really? In midsummer? Take the kids to a lake, then a museum. Indoor tourism has a fine future.

As August began, an exploding rifle target caused the largest wildfire in Idaho so far this year: the massively expensive Sharps Fire near Bellevue, which is still burning. A similar area burned not long ago because of tracer bullets. Table Rock above Boise was scorched by fireworks. All three causes are nominally illegal, but the Idaho Legislature needs to get urgently serious about enforcement. Yes, wildfires are bad for tourism. They are painfully wasteful for residents.

Thousands of Idaho visitors come to fish, yet science tells us much of our migratory fisheries will collapse in less than a decade. Removing the four lower Snake River dams is the best way to save them. When will leadership rescue this fishing heritage?

Losing some tourists might not be a big deal, but grasping the future consequences of climate change is. Be prepared – as prepared as possible.

Jerry Brady is a member of Compassionate Boise, a lawyer and a former newspaper publisher in Idaho.