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Researchers assess risks and opportunities a changing climate poses for Idaho's economy

Changes in rain, snow and temperature mean noticeable effects on agriculture, recreation and a range of other industries, but the possibilities aren't all gloom.

BOISE, Idaho — A new assessment funded by a range of major Idaho stakeholders connects scientific research on Idaho’s changing climate with potential economic risks and opportunities that affect businesses, residents, and local and state economies.

“This is a look at economic impacts of climate change, and we are really focused on different sectors of Idaho’s economy. This is a non-partisan, science-based assessment,” said Dr. Katherine Himes, director of the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.  

For starters, Dr. Himes has insight on how experts believe climate change will impact Idaho.

“The way climate is measured in Idaho is through temperature, precipitation and snowpack. So, we know that temperature is increasing. We know that precipitation is changing, it’s increasing in the spring and it is decreasing in the summer. Overall, snowpack is declining. Those major changes really can impact areas of Idaho’s economy,” Himes said.

One major area is Idaho’s agriculture industry. Dr. Himes details some of the risks climate change has for agriculture. 

“There is an economic risk of increasing heat stress and heat illness in livestock. This is, again, connected to increases in temperatures. There also will likely be an increasing cost of summer irrigation because of the decreases in precipitation. There will likely be delays in planting because of increasing spring rains; the fields may be too wet. Increasing energy use, again, could be connected to that summer irrigation,” Himes said.

The report also highlights new opportunities that climate change could bring to Idaho agriculture and other economic sectors.

“Changing to different crop varieties, also looking at different ways to irrigate, thinking about crop rotations, using soil to sequester carbon. There are certainly opportunities, and that was very important in this assessment, not just risks. We are also seeing what’s possible in the future, how to keep the economy strong,” Himes said.

Idaho business, nonprofit and higher education leaders oversaw the assessment convened by the McClure Center.

Alongside agriculture, the research looks at energy, forests, human health, infrastructure, rangelands, and recreation & tourism. That last sector, recreation & tourism, is one area many Idahoans will notice differences. 

“I think climate change certainly will impact recreation and tourism and that economy. Certainly, with winter, there will be impacts that we are already seeing. Later start dates with skiing and snowmobiling. Certainly, there may be less quality snow, less quality in terms of the number of ‘snow days’ and potentially less recreation tourism for skiing and snowboarding in the winter,” Himes said. 

There is one weather trend that Idaho winter sports enthusiasts have noticed in recent years that could really push winter sports seasons.

“One thing we often forget about are these things called rain-on-snow events. It’s when you have snow on the ground but then you have rain and not snow. That can impact a lot of things from the quality of snow to avalanche risk to flooding,” Himes said.

Again, the report also highlights opportunities for businesses like ski resorts to expand their operations into different avenues. 

The examples Himes mentions are similar to some things several Idaho ski areas, including Bogus Basin and Brundage Mountain, have started doing in recent years.

“These communities, the resorts, that rely on winter sports there could be increasing opportunity in ‘shoulder seasons.’ Certainly some ski resorts have hiking trails, mountain biking trails. There also could be concert series. So definitely really thinking about diversifying revenue streams,” Himes said.

Major financial supporters of the Idaho-Climate Economy Impacts Assessment include Simplot, the Idaho National Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, HP, Micron, STEM Action Center and the Idaho Forest Group, to name a few. The University of Idaho, Idaho State University and Boise State University are also among the study's supporters, through financial and in-kind contributions.


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