The Sustainable Angler: Hilary Hutcheson

The Sustainable Angler: Hilary Hutcheson


Rick Crawford

As this is the first installment of The Sustainable Angler, I thought I would provide a bit of background.  I am an angler, want-to-be writer and conservationist who founded a sustainability and marketing consultant agency so that I can protect what I love.  In other words, I help business minimize their environmental impact and turn their sustainability achievements into marketing stories.  It’s a formula that works well, but it’s not uncommon to meet with potential clients who get extremely uncomfortable when climate change is brought up because they feel they will lose customers because they feel they are making a political statement.  Completely understandable, but climate change is not political.  It is science.  However, there is absolutely nothing political about the scientific method, and it is through the scientific method that 97% of climate scientists have concluded that burning fossils fuels is accelerating the warming of the planet to dangerous levels for human existence.  Furthermore, the effects of climate change are already negatively impacting fisheries around the world, which is enough motivation for me to do everything I can both personally, and through my business, to protect what I love.

So, I started thinking about ways that I could make an impact.  How could I bring climate change to forefront and have a meaningful conversation instead of treating it like some sort of gremlin that can’t get wet, be fed after midnight or exposed to bright lights?  Well, aside from helping businesses mitigate the risks associated with climate change and minimizing my own personal environmental impact, I thought I could start a blog series and see where it goes.  So, I reached out to a few “influencers” in the fly fishing world to see if they might be interested in starting the conversation about climate change and other environmental topics that are negatively impacting fisheries with the intent of creating more awareness about what I believe to be a fixable problem.  Who knows…maybe fly fishing can save the world (and a few fish along the way)?

The first interviewee in The Sustainable Angler is Hilary Hutcheson, who is a fly fishing guide in Montana, a conservationist and is she is also deeply involved with nonprofits such as Protect Our Winters, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Casting for Recovery.  A mutual friend, Todd Tanner of Conservation Hawks fame, introduced us and I asked Hilary if I could interview her in a new blog series about climate change.  She accepted the invitation without hesitation.  I would like to sincerely thank Hilary for taking the time to be interviewed and shed a little light on climate change.  Below is my interview with Hilary Hutcheson:

Tell me a little bit about yourself….

My name is Hilary Hutcheson and I live in Columbia Falls, Montana, where I grew up. I’m mom to two interesting teenage daughters. I am a fly fishing guide, fly shop owner, writer, public relations professional and climate activist. My yellow lab Jolene and I are pretty much the same creature. We love to jump into snow or cold water. We love to go fast. We love to get up high on the mountain. We love to eat. We love to get up early. We’re curious, awkward and clumsy. We love our buddies and our family. Sometimes we get lost, but always find our way home.

How did you get into guiding?

I started guiding fly fishing and whitewater rafting in high school more than 20 years ago, after working a couple summers as a nanny and gopher at Glacier Raft Company.  Glacier is a place where you have to go out on the river with the boss and prove you can row technical water, put guests on fish, give good instruction, and offer a great river experience.

Who inspires you and why?

I’m inspired by my sister, Whitney and my brother, Brady. My sister runs a successful nonprofit called Casting for Recovery (CfR). CfR offers free, weekend fly fishing retreats to women with breast cancer. While she is a leader in the fly fishing industry, she is also the mother to three young children. My brother is a fashion designer in Portland, Oregon. He doesn’t fly fish, but is guilty by his association with Whitney and me.  

When did you first become aware of the impacts of climate change on our fisheries?

20 years ago I interviewed Dr. Dan Fagre for a school assignment in a television news reporting class at the University of Montana. The assignment was just an exercise in how to set up a news interview with the television cameras, lighting and framing, so most of my classmates just interviewed each other or professors or the school mascot. But I took it really seriously, and sought out Dr. Fagre, since I knew he was in Missoula at the time working on the launch of the Terra space satellite. I wanted to interview him because I had read an article in which he predicted the effects of climate change in Glacier National Park over the next two decades. I remember thinking, ‘WOW, those are the glaciers in my backyard, and you’re predicting their demise?!’ I was working as a fly fishing guide and raft guide in the summers, and he was suggesting that the rivers where I worked would be warmer, lower and less habitable for native trout. I remember being skeptical, but scared. I had to ask him about it in person. He came to the school television studio and did the interview, and now it’s 20 years later, and the predictions he made then have come to be.  I would love to find that interview, if it still exists on tape.

What effects of climate change are most concerning to you?

I’m most concerned about the humans. Climate change threatens our national security. It would be easy for me to simply worry about our native westslope cutthroat trout and my job as a fly fishing guide as habitat is impacted by the warming world, but the issue is much bigger than that. National security experts say climate change will escalate instability across the globe, making it harder for the US Military to conduct its operations. My guests who come to Montana from all over the world always say how lucky I am to live in such a peaceful, healthy, pristine slice of heaven.

But as climate change creates threat multipliers that can lead to global chaos and wars, everyone’s slice of heaven is at risk, including mine. And I’m constantly thinking about the desperation of climate refugees.

Again, I feel so lucky to live where I do, which makes me even more eager to consider others who are literally trying to survive.


Do you educate your clients on climate change while fishing?  If so, have you ever had a climate change denier on your boat, and how did you handle it?

I do educate my clients on climate change. For many years I didn’t because I was worried that a science lecture wasn’t what my clients signed up for.  But that’s changed, for a couple of reasons. First, my clients are the ones bringing it up, not me. I don’t have to be the one to initiate the conversation–I just have to be ready with facts to accurately answer their questions. When they get in the boat, it’s not long before they ask about the vanishing glaciers, low river flows, threats to wildlife like pika and mountain goats, changes in the ecosystem. And the second reason is that they are openly letting me know that they DO want a science lesson.

Nearly all my clients want to know about entomology, hydrology, geology and wildlife biology. So the climate discussion is obviously part of all of these.  

I may have had climate deniers on my boat, but I haven’t ever had anyone come right out and say it.  They’re here in Glacier National Park, looking directly at the impacts and having a great time. I think they find that voicing denial would be super lame to do while we’re floating, fishing, laughing, enjoying the day.  I think they realize that debating climate change while we’re IN it would be like jumping off a cliff and debating gravity mid-air.

What are you doing in your personal life to mitigate the risks associated with climate change?

I recognize that the biggest thing we can do is influence our elected leadership to move away from fossil fuels in favor of a clean energy economy, so I work with Protect Our Winters and Citizens Climate Lobby to let our US Senators and Representatives know their constituents are demanding action. It’s more important now than ever, with the dissolve of the Clean Power Plan and the US pulling out of the Paris Agreement.

So, I created a habit to call my delegates, write letters, post on social media and have in-person meetings with Senators and Representatives in Washington, DC and here at the Montana state capitol.

With that said, I agree that smaller action in our personal and professional lives are important. For me, these include educating my teenage daughters on climate change so they can contribute to the solution, and kicking plastic. I don’t use any single-use water bottles, and I encourage others to do the same. I make presentations wherever I can on Costa’s Kick Plastic Campaign. I try to drive as little as possible, but I still rely on fossil fuels, and I look forward to financially being able to move toward an electric vehicle.

What are some of your favorite brands doing to address climate change?

My observation is that it’s night and day between now and just a couple years ago in terms of brands openly addressing climate change. The fly fishing brands I work with have always been committed to conservation, but in general haven’t been as vocal on climate change specifically until recently. In the last few years, Orvis, Patagonia, Fishpond and Costa, among others have put significant time and money behind films, podcasts, print media campaigns, product co-ops and ambassadors that influence climate action. 

In fact, fly fishing brands have been brave in vocalizing their climate message, even risking alienating some customers.

They know it’s worth the risk, because we’ve nearly run out of time. Beyond that, they are lobbying US Senators and Representatives, writing to their local elected leadership and rallying their customers to do the same.  Brands that can do more can start by using their levers to lobby our elected leadership, to vote for clean energy alternatives and move away from fossil fuels.

Why is acting on climate important to you?

I’m held accountable by my children, who are teenagers and have a good time calling me out and reeling me in. So, if I slack off in this effort, they are right there to point it out. So, while I could say that action is important to me because I like to fish, it’s really that it’s important to me because I want my kids to sleep well at night knowing that their mom is doing what she can to protect them and keep them safe. I lock the doors at night, I try to feed them healthy food, and I make them wear helmets when they ski. Fighting to keep the planet cool is no different.

What is something you wish more anglers knew about climate change?

I wish more anglers know how much time we don’t have to act. We need to do it now.

Take Action

Well, that’s a wrap for the first installment of The Sustainable Angler blog series!  I huge thanks to Hilary for all that you do to protect what you love, and welcome to The Sustainable Angler club!  I could not agree more with Hilary that we are running out of time to act on climate.  The time to act is now, and I would encourage you to heed Hilary’s advice and make an impact today by calling your elected officials to let them know that now is the time to act on climate!  Protect Our Winters (POW) has a great script which can be accessed by clicking HERE.

Additionally, I believe real change begins with the individual, so here is a short list of actions you can take so that you can protect what you love, reduce your impact on climate change and be a Sustainable Angler:

  • As mentioned above, contact your elected officials to let them know that now is the time to act on climate.
  • Turn lights off when not in use, and replace all light bulbs in your home with LED bulbs to conserve energy and save money.
  • Insulate and seal your home with caulk, weather stripping and insulation to reduce drafts to save energy and money.
  • When buying new appliances, electronics, etc. make sure they are Energy Star certified to ensure they are as energy efficient as possible.
  • Check with your energy provider to see about purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs), or consider installing solar or a wind turbine at your home to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Sustainable Angler because next month we are interviewing Todd Tanner from Conservation Hawks!

Comments ( 2 )

  1. ReplyJb
    I applaud your efforts and hope they are successful beyond your wildest dreams! Good start to this series.
      Appreciate it very much, JB!

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