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Don’t Double Down on Denial: Part 2, Wildlife at Risk
Several recent reports by the United Nations, U.S. government, retired U.S. military leaders, and Antarctic scientists detail the current and future realities of climate change … and those realities are staggering. They read like a precursor to an apocalypse, with everything from droughts and floods to wars and economic instability tied to global climate change.
These predictions about the fate of humanity may make the threats to wildlife seem inconsequential in comparison to some; however, if we can save our wildlife, then we can also save ourselves. Or, as former congressmen and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall once put it, “Plans to protect air and water, wilderness, and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man … In a (world) with a growing population, if you’re doing nothing, you’re losing ground.”
The National Climate Assessment released earlier this month outlines how American wildlife will be or are already being hit hard by climate change. Those findings include:
- Ocean surface waters have become 30 percent more acidic as they have absorbed large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This ocean acidification reduces the ability of marine organisms with shells or skeletons made of calcium carbonate (such as corals, krill, oysters, clams, and crabs) to survive, grow, and reproduce, which will affect the entire marine food chain.
- Land- and seascapes are changing rapidly and species, including many iconic species, may disappear from regions where they have been prevalent, changing some regions so much that their mix of plant and animal life will become almost unrecognizable.
- Timing of critical biological events, such as spring bud burst, emergence from overwintering, and the start of migrations, will shift, leading to major impacts on species and habitats.
- Reductions in sea ice alters food availability for many species from polar bear to walrus.
- Long-term monitoring of bottom-dwelling fish communities in New England revealed that the abundance of warm-water species increased, while cool-water species decreased. Many species in this community have shifted their geographic distributions northward by up to 200 miles. The northward shifts of these species are reflected in the fishery as well: catch and catch value of these species have shifted towards northern states such as Massachusetts and Maine, while southern states have seen declines.
- Widespread declines in body size of resident and migrant birds at a bird-banding station in western Pennsylvania were documented over a 40-year period, showing that breeding adults body size got smaller as temperatures warmed.
The trout example
The NAC report notes that trout and other cold water fish will lose much of their habitat due to climate change. “As temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change, many fish species (such as salmon, trout, whitefish, and char) will be lost from lower-elevation streams, including a projected loss of 48% of habitat for all trout species in the western U.S. by 2080.”
The NAC report is one of many that singles out trout as species that will be very hard hit by climate change. These include the National Wildlife Federation’s “Swimming Upstream” and “Low Flows, Hot Trout, the National Resource Defense Council’s “Trout in Trouble” and Trout Unlimited “Healing Troubled Waters”.
A few quick highlights from these reports:
“Higher average temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns caused by climate change are expected to enable the expansion of many invasive species into new ecosystems. As many invasive species can tolerate a wide range of environmental conditions, a changing climate may allow these species to further impact and out-compete native species that are not adapted to the new conditions.” – Swimming Upstream
“Through a combination of diminished snow packs feeding cool water to rivers and streams, higher temperatures of the air and water, more frequent and largerwildfires, and the proliferation of disease that can accompany these changes, global warming will transform trout habitat. In some locations where the trout populations are particularly vulnerable, suitable habitat for trout could decline by 70 percent or more over the next 50 to 100 years.” – Trout in Trouble
“U.S. Forest Service scientists predict that over half of the wild trout populations will likely disappear from the southern Appalachian Mountains because of the effects of warming stream temperatures. Losses of western trout populations may exceed 60% in certain regions, with potential losses of migratory bull trout as high as 90%.” – Healing Troubled Waters
“Will we still be fishing for trout in 100 years? It might be a risky bet to say yes. One study estimates that due to warmer temperatures alone, we could lose between 5 to 30% of trout habitat in western Montana over the next century, and sensitive species like bull trout could be all but gone.” – Low Flows, Hot Trout
Whether it’s brook trout in the East, cutthroat trout in the West, or rainbow and brown trout anywhere in between, trout are the indicator species of cold water stream health. Climate impacts to trout have negative consequences to drinking water, recreation, and the economy. The same energy sources that pollute our air with carbon pollution and cause temperatures to rise, also pollute our streams with mercury and other toxins. There is no denying that trout and trout fishing are in causing trout and trout fishing to be imperiled.
The Moose Example
Perhaps no other species more exemplifies the existing damaging effects of climate change to our wildlife than moose.
If you’ve ever seen a moose in the wild, chances are you remember those encounters vividly. But due in large part to the effects of climate change, these encounters are becoming rarer and rarer throughout most of their range.
Moose are on the decline — from New Hampshire and Maine; to Minnesota and Michigan; and even into Montana and Wyoming — as overheating, disease and parasite infestation tied to warming temperatures leaves them weak and ill.
Biologists attribute much of this decline to increasing numbers of ticks and other parasites that harm moose, as a result of shorter winters that allow more of the lethal pests to survive. Biologists and sportsmen are noticing that these declines in moose populations are often accompanied by a drastic increase in winter ticks — with a single moose carrying over 100,000 of the parasites. There is no denying the negative consequences of climate change to moose and moose hunting that is happening right now.
One of America’s most iconic animals (moose) and most iconic fish (trout) are at risk of becoming ghosts throughout much of their current range — which in many cases is already a fraction of their historical range — but there are actions you can take now to keep that from happening. Help make it clear that Americans support limits on carbon pollution to protect the future of moose, trout and other wildlife at risk from climate change. Wildlife cannot afford for us to double down on denial.
The Environmental Protection Agency is acting now to limit carbon pollution from new coal-fired power plants, but is coming under assault from polluter-funded attack groups. The EPA needs to hear from you that Americans support limits on carbon pollution.
Check out the third and final installment of this blog on June 2 to hear why it’s vital for sportsmen and women to be active and engaged to curb climate change.