Heat, Disease Threaten Big Game and Their Habitats
NRCM and NWF press release
Augusta, ME (September 25, 2013) – Rising temperatures, spreading diseases, and more extreme weather events fueled by manmade climate change are making survival more challenging for America’s treasured big game wildlife from coast to coast, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. Nowhere to Run – Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World details how climate change is already putting many species of big game at risk, creating an uncertain future for big game and the outdoor economy that depends on them.
“A healthy natural environment for wildlife, and the sporting community that relies on it, is indispensable to our state’s economy and traditional values,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “That’s why there has been so much focus in Maine on conserving and restoring habitat for deer and other species. But today, a changing climate threatens to undermine those efforts and those values.”
Nowhere to Run shows rising temperatures, deeper droughts, increasing parasites and disease, and more extreme weather events fueled by manmade climate change are making survival more challenging for America’s treasured big game wildlife from coast to coast. Unprecedented changes in habitat are having far-reaching consequences for big game and for the sporting population, affecting, for example, the timing of hunting seasons and the distribution and survival of animals.
“Maine’s natural resource agencies and the land trust community have worked hard over the decades to secure a wildlife legacy for all Mainers to enjoy,” said wildlife biologist Steve Walker, currently a Project Manager for Maine Coast Heritage Trust. “This work has involved a focus on habitat quality and connectivity. The climate change wild card will require that we double down on these efforts to achieve the best prospects for game and non-game species. Proactive, local, science-based conservation is key to maintaining Maine’s wildlife legacy and outdoor opportunities for our children’s children. And the science of climate change also demands that we confront the root cause of pollution in order to fully protect wildlife.”
“Everything is at stake here: hunting, fishing, bird-watching, snowmobiling, moose watching, and much more,” said outdoor writer George Smith. “These things sustain rural Maine people and their economy. We are foolishly jeopardizing all of it, and a speedy transition to clean renewable energy is critical.”
The report, an assimilation of current science addressing the impact of climate change on big game, describes specific effects on eight species, including:
• Moose: Moose are facing a triple threat – rising temperatures, changing forest species, and increased mortality from parasites. Moose can become heat-stressed in warm weather, especially in summer if temperatures climb above 60 to70 degrees when moose coats are thinner. Heat stress leads to lower weights, declining pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to predators and disease. Heavy exposure to ticks is already significantly impacting moose in New Hampshire and southern Maine.
• White-tailed Deer: White-tailed deer are susceptible to hemorrhagic disease (HD) caused by viruses transmitted by biting midges. HD typically subsides shortly after the first autumn frost because colder temperatures kill the midges. Longer summers are likely to expose deer to more disease-carrying midges.
• Black Bears: More extensive, more frequent drought conditions could cause black bears to move more out of their traditional habitats searching for food and into areas of human habitation and development. Because of warmer fall and winter temperatures, bears are already more active than usual during times when they normally hibernate.
“Not only are our sporting traditions at risk, but jobs-producing tourism dollars could decline as there will be less wildlife to see and fewer opportunities for hunting,” said Voorhees. “To protect Maine’s outdoor heritage, we must cut carbon pollution, speed our transition to clean energy, and safeguard big game and their habitats from climate change and other threats.”
There were more than 12 million adult big game hunters nationally who spent more than $16 billion on hunting in 2011 alone. Sportsmen have invested decades and millions of dollars in restoring big game habitats and populations, in excise taxes and hunting and fishing licenses and fees.
Nowhere to Run outlines the key steps needed to stem climate change and save big game:
1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030.
2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like on- and off-shore wind, solar power, and next-generation biofuels, and avoid polluting energy like coal and oil.
3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
4. Manage big game considering a changing climate in plans and management.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine is a nonprofit membership organization protecting, restoring, and conserving Maine’s environment, now and for future generations.
The National Wildlife Federation is America’s largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children’s future.