In a time when keyboard conservation ticks the social responsibility boxes of gaining online respect, it often seems difficult to find those who are not directly associated in the fields of biology, ecology or environmental sciences, who do more than simply repost the latest movement. We have become so inundated with campaign posts of asking each other to join us in the social cause to end the deforestation surrounding watersheds, to end global warming and to stop the use of single-use plastics, all by sharing a link to a website. Whilst these are paramount causes in terms of global sustainability, aquatic vulnerability and our responsibilities of being stewards to the land; and whilst knowledge and exposure are critical in educating individuals, sharing a post does not cut it in today’s political, economic and ecological environment.
Meet, Hilary Hutcheson, a fly fishing guide, a mother, a fly shop co-owner and a very active climate activist. Over a remote interview, I was able to ask Hilary a little bit more in her mission against global warming.
Katy: Tell me about yourself?
Hilary: I live in Columbia Falls, Montana, where I grew up. My daughters, Ella and Delaney are teenagers and I think they’re pretty great. I work as a fly fishing guide on the Flathead River system near Glacier National Park. I’m also a fly shop owner, writer, public relations professional and climate activist. I learned to fly fish with my sister and our buddies in junior high just by goofing off at the river in West Glacier. We were running the river in anything that floated, so we got good at rowing and reading water early on. Then I got a job at Glacier Raft Company doing odd jobs and babysitting the owners’ kids. In high school, I started guiding whitewater and fly fishing trips for Glacier, and continued guiding on and off for the following 22 years. And I’m still here, still digging it.
Katy: I know you’re an active advocate for climate change in regards to its impacts on fisheries and snowpack, how did you originally get involved?
Hilary: I was first introduced to how climate change could affect our fishery 20 years ago when I interviewed climate scientist Dan Fagre, Ph.D for a television news reporting class at the University of Montana. He predicted the effects of climate change in Glacier National Park over the next two decades, saying the rivers where I worked would be warmer, lower and less habitable for native trout. Now it’s 20 years later, and the predictions he made then have come to be. Over the last 20 years I’ve been telling interested guests about Dan’s interview.
Katy: How are you involved?- Do you work with specific organizations and/ or companies that advocate for climate change in regards to cold water fisheries?
Hilary: I work with Protect Our Winters and Citizens Climate Lobby to let our US Senators and Representatives know their constituents are demanding action on clean energy. My feeling is that we can and should influence our elected leadership to move away from fossil fuels in favor of a clean energy economy, especially with the dissolve of the Clean Power Plan and the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement. I try to call my delegates on the phone, go to their offices a the Montana state capitol and in Washington, DC, write letters and use social media to relay the importance and urgency.
Katy: What should we be doing to help combat climate change as a fly fishing industry (shops, guides, industry leaders etc)? What about on a personal level, what should we be doing?
Hilary: I feel the fly fishing industry has been doing an increasingly good job on working together for climate action. Our industry association, AFFTA, has a global climate change statement to encourage the business of fly fishing to participate in climate action. There’s a part that says, “Climate change is no longer a potential threat; It demands our attention now. We applaud our members who have taken pro-active steps to address this challenge in their businesses and encourage others to look for opportunities to do likewise.” And I see brands are doing this. For example, the last time I lobbied for climate action in Washington, DC with Protect Our Winters, I was stoked to be alongside Orvis VP Steve Hemkens and Fishpond CEO John LeCoq. They spoke on Capitol Hill from the heart. Orvis did a full post cast episode on climate action. Costa’s Kick Plastic campaign is going gangbusters. Trout Unlimited’s climate change statement says, “TU understands that avoiding the severe harmful effects that climate change will have on coldwater fisheries and their watersheds require both a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from existing energy production as well as a fundamental shift in energy sources from fossil fuels to low-carbon technologies and conservation.”
On a personal scale, guides and shops can do things today to make a difference, like participate in Costa’s Kick Plastic Campaign to eliminate single-use water bottles from their operations. Fishing 101 clinics and guide schools can include climate action in their conservation education segments. And again, we can call our elected leadership to demand clean energy alternatives. I heard Ford is coming out with a hybrid F-150 in two years from now. I’d like to learn more about that rig and what other truck companies are doing similarly.
Katy: What about people who deny climate change; how do we educate those people?
Hilary: I don’t argue with climate deniers or try to change their minds. I definitely don’t row on a soapbox. But I am here to offer facts about the ecosystem and the impact the change has on our fishery. I’m happy to answer any questions my guests have about the disappearing glaciers, river levels, threats to animals and to the economy. I’ve actually never had a denier want to get into it with me. I guess if they did, I’d stick to the facts and concentrate on showing them a good time. Because climate deniers are visiting Glacier National Park for many of the same reasons climate activists are: to have a good time. And when deniers are having an amazing experience on the river, they’re not likely to gripe about a Chinese hoax. And hopefully, they’ll leave with more appreciation for the resource, which naturally triggers a desire to protect it.
Katy: If you could ask everyone to do just one thing that would help combat climate change, what would it be?
Hilary: Phone your elected leaders and tell them why you are counting on them to vote for clean energy.
We’d like to thank Hilary for the time to connect with us and be sure to follow along with Hilary on her Instagram: @outsidehilary.
Katy Watson is the Flylords conservation writer. She is a fly fishing guide, casting instructor, competition caster and steelhead dirtbag. But more importantly a passionate steelhead conservationist, be sure to check her out on Instagram @katywat!