When I first moved to Bemidji four years ago, I was startled to see a pair of headlights shining out of the darkness from Lake Bemidji on a winter night. That’s probably something those who’ve lived their whole lives here don’t view as out of the ordinary, but that took some getting used to for someone who was raised in central Illinois.
I didn’t see as many headlights this winter. Or the accompanying ice houses for that matter.
This winter wasn’t ideal for ice fishing. As the ice on lakes now begins to melt with the end of another winter, it makes me think this could become an increasingly familiar sight in northern Minnesota.
Businesses that depend on a steady flow of anglers flocking to lakes across the region will take a hit as climate change continues to wreak havoc on the area’s winters. That was already the case here this season, when Lake Bemidji appeared more like a ghost town than a bustling hub with dozens of ice houses.
The season was so disastrous for resort owners, they asked the state for relief. State Sen. Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids) and Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) introduced bills in late February to provide aid to those businesses. The bills remain in committee.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a warning to Minnesotans that the winter activities they cherish are threatened by rising temperatures. The state has warmed three degrees in the last century, the report says, and ice cover on lakes is forming later and melting sooner.
There are plenty of other consequences a warmer Minnesota will have to reckon with. But for this column at least, I’m more concerned about the effect climate change will have on winter recreation. And in Bemidji, that begins and ends with ice fishing.
The quality of this winter’s ice was lacking. A heavy snowfall shortly after Christmas, unusual for that time of year, led to thin ice and slushy conditions that made it almost impossible to venture out onto some lakes.
The lack of a sustained deep-freeze period didn’t help matters this winter either. Conditions improved late, but that came after most of the season was wiped out.
That makes seeing the news this week of President Trump’s decision to weaken fuel mileage standards for cars and trucks even more disappointing. It is only the latest step the president has taken to undermine the fight against climate change.
Minnesota’s winters and all the pleasures that go along with them -- not only ice fishing, but outdoor ice skating, skiing and snowmobiling -- are at risk of becoming a thing of the past.
It’s up to individuals and businesses alike to guard against a future without the winter activities Minnesotans have come to know and love.
Even if you may not see the benefit of measures taken to prevent climate change, what about your children and grandchildren? Wouldn’t you want them to continue to enjoy the same experience of spending a day on a frozen lake as you have for so many years?
If action isn’t taken soon to reduce carbon emissions and stop climate change, the days could be numbered for ice fishing, and a whole lot more. This winter may have only served as a sign of things to come.
Austin Monteith is the sports editor for the Pioneer. Readers can reach him at (218) 333-9787.