What Youth Climate Trial Means for Fly Fishing

August 21, 2023 By: Spencer Durrant

As you likely heard, last week a group of Montana youth (aged 5 – 22) won a lawsuit against the state of Montana. The lawsuit alleged that Montana has a constitutional duty to provide a “clean and healthful” environment, which a judge found the state is not providing.

By ruling in favor of the youth group, the judge is setting precedent that Montana owes its citizens a “healthy, livable climate.” This, in effect, establishes a “government duty to protect citizens from climate change,” according to the Associated Press.

The legal precedent at play here will have huge ramifications as similar lawsuits are taken to other state courts throughout America. But what will this mean for fly fishing?

Well, according to Todd Tanner in Newsweek, “Montana will now be forced to take climate change into account when it considers permits for new coal mines, power plants, pipelines, and other CO2-producing infrastructure. Barring a stay of her decision from Judge Seeley or Montana’s Supreme Court, the state’s decades-long promotion of fossil fuels will have to stop.”

In the short term, it’s not likely that much will change, especially for fly anglers. In the long term, however, there could be drastic changes as projects like mines or pipelines can’t ever get off the ground due to the new legal precedents set in this case. That will likely have an economic impact, especially on rural Montana.

If this ruling is forceful enough to recalibrate the fossil fuel industry not only in Montana, but in other Western states, then the immediate benefit will be less development overall. They’re not making new wild places these days, so some rivers and streams will be protected from the threat of future development.

Of course, there’s the problem of our reliance on fossil fuels and a lack of a viable alternative, especially here in the West. But that’s not really the focus of the lawsuit. The goal was to enshrine climate protections in the law, and the youth group seems to have accomplished that task.