Stressful Weather Conditions Exacerbate Pests and Threaten Health in Maine
News release by NRCM and NWF
PORTLAND, MAINE, August 19, 2014 – Climate change is creating favorable conditions for many bothersome pests – from ticks to poison ivy and jellyfish to mosquitoes– increasing their numbers and expanding their ranges, according to a new report released in Portland today by health, wildlife, and outdoor recreation professionals. The report, Ticked Off: The Outdoor Experience and Climate Change, which was written by the National Wildlife Federation, explains how manmade climate change has brought about stressful new changes for the outdoor world. Citing the best available science, the report goes on to explain how climate change is already increasing numbers and expanding ranges of annoying pests and plants, making the outdoor experience less enjoyable and putting the health of people and wildlife at increased risk.
“Tick-borne diseases, including Lyme, Anaplasmosis, and Babesia continue to be reported in Maine, some in record numbers,” said Dr. Sheila Pinette, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. “With warm moist weather from May through September, Maine people are more active outdoors along with our active tick population. As a result, Maine providers have already reported more cases of Anaplasmosis so far this year than were reported in all of 2013.”
“Growing up in Maine we never even thought about ticks…they didn’t exist,” says Bill Houston, Master Maine Guide and National Wildlife Federation Board Member. “Now I have a friend with very serious Lyme disease and our moose herd suffered a 60% calf mortality rate this past winter, both from ticks. Now we need to think about ticks every time we head outdoors and more importantly we all need to think of actions we can take to reduce the rapid acceleration of climate change that brought them here in the first place.”
“There are many very serious problems caused by the warming climate,” said George Smith, outdoor writer and former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. “I am especially concerned about our native brook trout that require very cold water. They have already all but vanished from southern and central Maine due to warming waters. I am also worried about Maine’s moose as ticks are killing Maine’s herd, especially calves, in alarming numbers. Maine hunters were disappointed this year when the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife slashed moose hunting permits by 25 percent, in response to a study that shows devastating losses last winter due to – you guessed it – ticks. I don’t believe we will ever again get 4,000 moose permits as we did last year.”
“Maine moose took a nose dive in 2014 thanks to a ton of ticks wearing them down,” said Eric Orff, former wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and outreach consultant for the National Wildlife Federation. “Shorter winters with less snow on the ground in February and March are causing spikes in tick populations pushing moose numbers down. Upwards of 70 percent of Maine moose calves and 30 percent of adults succumbed to the heavy loads of ticks by the end of April of this year. Mortality such as this is not sustainable as our winters continue to warm.”
Ticked Off describes how shorter winters, warmer summers, and more severe weather conditions all contribute to the abundance of outdoor pests. These pests can transmit diseases to people and pets, threatening people’s health and outdoor experiences. Proper action is critical to avoid larger increases in outdoor pests and plants.
- Deer Ticks: Warmer winters are allowing expansion of the range of deer tick populations faster than projected, increasing the exposure of Mainers to ticks and raising the risk of Lyme disease.
- Winter Ticks: A warming climate will increase the number of winter ticks that infect animals like moose, elk, caribou, and white-tailed deer. The larvae of winter ticks feed on their host animals in all their stages.
- More Algae: Warmer rivers, streams, and lakes could be hit with more algae that thrive in warm waters and deplete the oxygen fish need to survive. Heavier rain events will increase runoff and add nutrients that fuel more algal growth and more oxygen depletion.
- Jellyfish: More common in warmer years, jellyfish are projected to become more abundant as our climate warms.
- Poison Ivy: More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is accelerating the growth and increasing the abundance of vines like poison ivy. With higher CO2 levels, it produces a more allergenic form of urushiol, the toxic chemical that causes rashes in people.
- Stink Bugs: Longer summers bring more of these insects, causing harm to popular backyard garden crops like tomatoes, beans, berries, asparagus, sweet corn, peppers, and more.
- Tiger Mosquitoes: The number of people possibly exposed to the tiger mosquito could double to about 30 million. Warmer temperatures cause earlier emergence of tiger mosquitoes in the spring, which leads to more mosquito generations each year. Tiger mosquitoes can transmit 30 different viruses to humans, including West Nile virus.
Today in northernmost Maine and in the higher elevations, it gets too cold too soon for the deer tick to complete its life cycle,” said Susan Elias, Clinical Research Associate at the Maine Medical Center Vector-borne Disease Laboratory. “But by 2050 we expect the climate of northern and central Maine to feel more like present southern Maine, and southern Maine to feel more like Massachusetts. So, we predict that the deer tick will be able to complete its life cycle statewide. This means more deer ticks and more tick-borne illness unless we can boost prevention efforts. We also predict an increase in mosquitoes that cause veterinary and human illness.”
“Maine’s coast is widely known as one of the best destinations in the world for sea kayaking, sailing, paddleboarding and surfing,” said Zach Anchors, owner of Portland Paddle Company, a sea kayaking outfitter in Casco Bay. “But those of us who spend our days on the water and on Maine’s islands are noticing lots of signs that the environment is changing, including islands lined with beached jellyfish and thick with rapidly-spreading poison ivy. The increasing presence of jellyfish, poison ivy, and ticks we’re seeing are cause for alarm. I’m concerned that Maine’s coast will be a much less appealing place to paddle and recreate if we don’t immediately act to confront the threat climate change poses.”
Climate change is bringing stressful new changes to the outdoor world, and without proper actions, conditions will only worsen. Congress and government at all levels are strongly encouraged to reduce carbon pollution, move to less-polluting cleaner fuels and energy sources, increase energy efficiency, and support the proposed carbon pollution limits by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The time to act on climate change is now if we hope to avoid the rapid expansion of pest species in Maine and preserve the outdoor activities we love,” said Todd Martin, Outreach Coordinator for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to slash CO2 emissions from domestic power plants, our nation’s single largest source of CO2, is a great first step and we urge Maine Senators Collins and King to do all they can in Washington, D.C. to see that the plan is adopted and implemented swiftly.”
Ticked Off outlines the key steps needed to stem climate change and save the outdoor experience:
1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution by supporting the Clean Power Plan, which will establish limits on the amount of carbon pollution released by power plants.
2. Transition to clean, wildlife-friendly sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power, and next-generation biofuels, and avoid polluting energy like coal and tar sands oil.
3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation and expanding protections to key land and seascapes.
4. Help communities become resilient and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather and more severe droughts.