Climate Change & Covid: 2021’s top stories!

The Big Hole River at Kalsta Bridge in July. The river got a lot skinnier by August.

Those gaily wrapped Christmas packages have all been opened, the gift wrap now in the city landfill. The tree is shedding needles and about to be hauled out for recycling. We may be in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but we’re thinking more in terms of New Year’s Eve than Christmas Eve.

 Before we jump into that new year of 2022, however, let’s look back at 2021, especially from an outdoors perspective.

 Something that this year has done, for better or worse, is demonstrate the grim reality of climate change, whether here in Montana, the United States or the whole world.

Let’s review Montana’s weather in 2021.

Just about all of Montana was in severe or extreme drought in 2021, as were most of the northern plains and Rocky Mountain states and Pacific Northwest. Farmers and ranchers were faced with crop failure, lack of grazing and hay crops. River levels dropped and widespread angling restrictions and closures went into effect starting in early July. We had wildfires in virtually all areas of Montana. Fisheries biologists have also found that trout populations, especially brown trout, are dropping.

Drought effects aren’t limited to rivers and crops. Wildlife suffers in drought, with lack of forage, poor nesting cover for birds, dried-up wetlands, diseases in animals. The impacts of climate change are limitless.

 The impacts aren’t just on fish and wildlife. Tourism is a major part of Montana’s economy. Fishing closures and restrictions equate to loss of income to fly shops, sporting goods stores, lodges, guides, and tourism in general.

 As we moved into autumn, the warm weather continued. Even here in Butte, a city notorious for cold weather, we had days with highs in the 60s in December. Some towns even had highs in the 70s. We’re having wildfires in December, including a forest fire just outside of Butte, not to mention the grass fire that came close to wiping the central Montana town of Denton off the map.

If we had freaky weather in Montana, think of the monster tornadoes that ravaged Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky this month. Even my home state of Minnesota had two tornadoes this month. Yes, you read that right. Tornadoes in Minnesota in December.

I’ll also make the snarky observation that, in the face of climate change, with all the changes that are increasingly affecting Montana and all of the West, what does Governor Gianforte do? He pulls Montana out of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a multi-state coalition organized to deal with climate change. The Guv’s spokesperson, Brooke Stroyke, issued a statement that “the governor believes the solution to climate change is unleashing American innovation, not overbearing government mandates.”

So, how’s that working for us, Governor?

 The other big elephant in the room is Covid-19.

 Since March 2020, when the Pandemic hit Montana, 2,890 Montanans have died of covid. 195,417 cases of covid have been reported, meaning almost 200,000 people have been infected, which likely translates to the majority of Montana households having been affected by the Pandemic one way or another. (Note: figures are from a week ago)

As of last week, just 54 percent of Montana’s citizens have been vaccinated for coronavirus, and the percentage of fully vaccinated with a booster shot is just 37.9 percent (source: Washington Post). The overall percentage for the U.S. is 62 percent.

 Vaccinations are a highly effective means to prevent covid-19 infection, and to reduce severity, need for hospitalization, or death in “break-through” cases.

 I guess we could take pride in being better than Idaho, which has vaccinated 46.1 percent of population or Wyoming, with 47. 2 percent. Even Mississippi and Louisiana are doing better than those states.

 Again, I fault the Governor for lack of leadership in promoting vaccinations, not to mention his active stances against mask and vaccination mandates. While we’re pointing fingers, let’s note Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who has filed multiple lawsuits protesting federal vaccine mandates, not to mention attempting to bully a Helena hospital into administering ivermectin to a covid patient.

 Remember the good old days when elective officials worked FOR the people of Montana?

  Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at

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