Despite the title of our tour, we didn't see any trout. What we did see, though, was a landscape in a state of rapid change.
My group ventured up Mt. Jumbo (the one with the "L"). We took the long way, up a cold and shadowed Woods Gulch. Everywhere we looked, climate change's causes and effects were inescapable. When we looked near at hand, we saw the beetle-killed ponderosa pines. Looking far, we saw the sprawling Missoula valley. We were also reminded of periods not that long ago (only 10,000 years) when Montana's climate was considerably colder: the bathtub rings of ancient Glacial Lake Missoula, and the steep walls of Hellgate Canyon carved by the massive jokulhlaups, or glacial-floods.
Before our hike, we received a breakfast primer on climate change in the northern Rockies. Speakers included: Nobel laureate Steven Running, Regents Professor at the University of Montana; Diana Six, professor of integrated forest entomology and pathology at the University of Montana; Michael Gibson, outreach coordinator for Montana Trout Unlimited; and Dave Morris, a doctoral student at the School of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana.
Much of the discussion revolved around the current changes in flora and fauna in the region. Six, a bark beetle expert, explained: "You can't work on bark beetle issues without working on climate change issues."
Morris wondered aloud whether people will act in response to the signs of climate change on the landscape. He described the beetle kill across the west as "climate change impact slamming you in the face."
Later in the day, Morris brought our group to the trunk of a beetle-killed ponderosa pine. We peered into the holes that the beetles had bored to fly away in a mass migration to some yet living tree. The question, it seems, is not if the beetles will spread. The signs indicate they will continue their profligacy. Instead, the question is if we will continue ours.