Urgent Action Needed to Protect Ecosystems
AUGUSTA, ME — Climate change is already changing the playing field for wildlife and urgent action is needed to preserve America’s conservation legacy, according to a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation. Wildlife in a Warming World: Confronting the Climate Crisis examines case studies from across the country illustrating how global warming is altering wildlife habitats. It recommends solutions that would protect not just wildlife but communities across America from the growing climate-fueled threats such as sea level rise, wildfires and drought.
“Climate disruption is the most serious threat facing America’s wildlife, and requires action at the local, state and federal levels,” said Dr. Amanda Staudt, Climate Change Scientist and report author, National Wildlife Federation. “Some of America’s most iconic species—from saguaro cactus and moose to sandhill cranes and black bears—are seeing their homes transformed by rapid climate change.”
“Climate change continues to warm Maine’s coastal waters and has led to more invasive green crabs, which are devastating Maine’s wild harvest shellfish industry,” said Chad Coffin of the Maine Clammers Association. “Maine’s shellfish industry should be contributing between $50 M and $70 M annually, but it is in steep decline.”
“Here in New Hampshire, the lack of sea ice has hammered my business,” said Jason McKenzie, who owns the Suds ‘n Soda Sports Shop in Greenland, NH. “We count on saltwater ice fishing for much of our winter business and with no ice last winter and almost none this winter we are hurting.”
“It’s not just groundhogs that are restless during our too warm winters; our black bear have turned into insomniacs too,” said New Hampshire bear and wildlife biologist Eric Orff. “Some bears are now wandering much of the winter. Moose have also been hit hard by the unusually warm winters this past decade. Warm winters with little snow are causing huge spikes in winter ticks, which kill moose, contributing to a 40 percent decline in NH moose populations in the last seven years.”
“Warming waters have drastically changed the geographic range of lobsters in the last two decades,” says Rick Wahle, Research Associate Professor from the University of Maine. “The lobster populations to our south have not only shifted north, they are also experiencing shell diseases and attacks from new predators. This could offer us a glimpse of things to come in Maine if waters continue to warm.”
The National Wildlife Federation report covers eight regions of the U.S., from the Arctic to the Atlantic coast, and details concrete examples of wildlife struggling to adapt to the climate crisis, including in New England where:
- Higher carbon dioxide concentrations are making ocean water more acidic, which can damages shellfish shells.
- Warmer waters are boosting populations of many harmful and invasive species, including the green crabs that are harming the region’s shellfish industry.
- People and black bears come face-to-face more frequently, as the bears hibernate less and are on the move more during our warmer winters, seeking food.
- Warmer winters are boosting tick populations to the extent that Moose are dying of tick infestation.
- Climate change is affecting acorn production, challenging birds and much other wildlife that depends on acorns as food.
- Commercially important fish species now present off the New England coast, including cod, haddock, winter flounder and yellowtail flounder, are particularly vulnerable to temperature increases because they are at the southern end of their ranges here.
- Along the northern Atlantic Coast, there is considerable concern about lobster populations due to warming temperatures and diseases.
- More devastating hurricanes, tied to an increase in ocean temperatures, will affect coastal communities, ecosystems, and wildlife like never before.
- The natural habitats and communities along the New England coasts are ill-prepared to deal with sea level rise, putting them at significant risk.
The report comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s January 21 inaugural address targeting climate change as a priority. “We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” said President Obama. “That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks.”
The report recommends a four-pronged attack to confront the climate crisis’s threats to wildlife and communities:
1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution 50 percent by 2030;
2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels while avoiding dirty energy choices like coal and tar sands oil
3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
4. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather, and more severe droughts.
“We know what’s causing the climate changes Americans are seeing in their own backyards and we have the solutions to secure our climate and safeguard our wildlife for future generations,” said Lisa Pohlmann, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “What we need is the political leadership to make smart energy choices and wise investments in protecting our natural resources.”