“In many of these resort communities, climate change still feels like an abstract issue,” Madson says. “They see the discussion over climate change happening at the UN climate talks. But they wonder how a small town of 21,000 people, like South Lake Tahoe, can tackle climate change.
“I don’t think it necessarily occurs to them that they can make a difference,” she says. “Though they are certainly feeling the impacts.”
Over the last two years, she has created a framework by which these diverse communities can influence state and federal policy, work together to access federal, state and private funding for climate adaptation, and develop strategies for economic and environmental resiliency.
The concept has attracted support from several resort communities, and Madson is now launching this nonprofit initiative.
Over the last decade, the winter tourism industry has lost an estimated $1 billion and as many as 27,000 jobs as a result of diminished snowfall patterns, according to a 2012 study by the nonprofit groups Protect Our Winters (POW) and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The implications of these trends are not lost on western resort communities, Madson says. During visits to several ski towns last year, she found that resort operators and regional leaders in most resort towns are very much aware of the problem.
But she also found that most aren’t really doing much about it. And even if they wanted to, there’s not much information on what they could do.
“What information exists on climate change adaptation is largely focused on coastal communities, where they are experiencing sea-level rise and hurricanes and other issues,” she said. “But, of course, there is also significant economic loss happening in these mountain communities.”
In her work with Tahoe, Vail, Jackson Hole, and Park City, she discovered an overwhelming interest in building adaptation into the fabric of community planning — and how implementation on this scale might eventually be funded.