News release of the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine
MAINE (August 18, 2015) – Maine’s and America’s waterways are already being stressed by climate change and President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is urgently needed to protect them. This is the conclusion of a new report by the National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife in Hot Water: Climate Change and America’s Waterways. The report takes a comprehensive look at the science connecting global warming with changes to our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans, such as warmer water and more extreme weather. The report details impacts on the fish, wildlife, and communities that depend on our waters. Impacts on Maine’s lobster fishing industry (page 23), and Maine duck hunting opportunities (page 22), are among those examined in the report.
“Hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts experience firsthand how climate impacts are threatening wildlife from coast to coast—from fueling warming trout and salmon runs to toxic algae in Lake Erie and Florida; from record droughts in Texas, California, and Florida to wildfires scorching habitat across the West and Alaska; and from extreme storms along the East Coast to accelerating erosion in the Gulf,” said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. “The Clean Power Plan’s flexible, achievable, science-based rules represent real progress for protecting fish, wildlife, and America’s outdoor heritage from the worst impacts of climate change.”
“Climate change is lowering water levels and warming Maine’s headwater streams that feed our rivers, lakes, and ponds”, says Lee Margolin, President of the Mollyockett Trout Unlimited Chapter in the Sebago Lake region. “Headwater streams provide important spawning and rearing habitat for fish and are incredibly important to water quality in downstream lakes, rivers, and bays that also provide important fish and wildlife habitat. There is a direct connection between clean water and the U.S. hunting- and fishing-based economy, which generates $200 billion in annual economic activity and supports 1.5 million jobs.”
“In too many recent winters, the great migrations of ducks from up north to the coast of Maine never quite materialized during hunting season because of the warmth”, said Nick Bennett, Staff Scientist with the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and an avid duck hunter. “When it’s too warm, new ducks don’t come into Casco Bay, one of my favorite places to hunt, until after the season is over.”
“Unfortunately, it is all too easy to see evidence of climate change here in Casco Bay,” says Cathy L. Ramsdell, CPA, Executive Director of Friend’s of Casco Bay and Casco Baykeeper pro tem. “Our waters are warming and the chemistry is changing, and we know this from 24 years of collecting data with our community. These shifts are happening faster than anyone could have predicted and drive changes in the ecosystem, such that species on which we have long relied may be at risk, while others ‘from away’ are taking up residence and resources. One data set from 13 years of measurements shows a drop in the acidity of bottom water here in the Bay at the rate of 0.014 pH units per year; this is an alarming rate. And sea-level rise and storm surges are taking their toll already, with naturally occurring king tides exhibiting more dramatic heights and depths than ever.”
Wildlife in Hot Water provides concrete examples of the bodies of waters that are suffering due to climate change – not only directly worsening wildlife habitat, but also threatening the drinking water for millions of Americans. A key example is seen in Toledo, OH where residents were victims of toxic algae outbreaks, leaving nearly half a million residents without water for nearly three days as fish and wildlife suffered. In 2013, about 21 states across the country reported harmful algal outbreaks in nearly 150 different locations—these numbers are only expected to increase without climate action.
The report follows President Obama’s announcement on a finalized U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule. Known as the Clean Power Plan, the rule sets new standards on industrial carbon pollution caused by new, modified, and existing power plants. The rule is the first of its kind to directly address the carbon footprint left by power plants and requires a 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.
The report details several of the threats posed to water bodies across Maine and the nation:
- Headwater Streams: These streams are experiencing a significant change in water flow, as snowpack melt one to four weeks earlier than half a century ago, causing low levels of water during summer months. With low levels, waters warm quicker, causing a change in temperature that often harms wildlife that are dependent on cooler temperatures.
- Rivers: With a warming climate, many rivers are experiencing severe drought. With less water, river temperatures are increasing, putting much wildlife and drinking water at risk. As early as the end of this century, the habitat of much wildlife that heavily rely upon cold water will decline by 50 percent across the nation.
- Lakes: As climate change causes an increase in severe weather conditions and precipitation, lakes have become more vulnerable to large quantities of nearby runoff such as fertilizers. These fertilizers can contribute to more harmful algal bloom outbreaks, which in turn decrease water clarity, bury fish habitat in pollutants, and poison drinking water for thousands of Americans.
- Coastal Wetlands and Estuaries: Known as one of the most productive habitats on Earth, coastal wetlands and estuaries are now threatened with the rise of sea levels, more intense and frequent coastal storms, and altered runoff.
- Oceans: Rising water temperatures in our oceans has become more evident, as there has been a 0.8o Fahrenheit increase from 1971 to 2010. Over the past decade, water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have warmed faster than pretty much everywhere else in the global ocean, according to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine.
- Sea-level changes are also evident, as sea levels are now 50 percent higher than over the past 20 years. Ocean acidification – known as the evil twin of climate change – is also becoming more prominent with the increase of carbon dioxide in the air. With more acid in our oceans, shellfish that rely on carbonate shells are put at greater risk.
Wildlife in Hot Water details the steps needed to confront climate change and protect our waterways:
- Support the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken a historic step forward with new standards to limit the amount of carbon pollution from power plants. These standards are a critical and necessary step in reducing Maine’s carbon pollution.
- Say no to new dirty energy projects. Oil, gas, and coal development destroy, degrade, pollute, and fragment habitat. Science is telling us that we must slow and stop the expansion of new dirty energy reserves—such as the massive coal fields in North America and the tar sands in Canada—which threaten important habitat and would lock in more carbon pollution for decades to come.
- Expand clean, wildlife-friendly energy and improve energy efficiency. Wind (on land and offshore), solar, sustainable bioenergy, and geothermal energy can protect wildlife, habitat, and our water.
- Restore the Clean Water Act to fully protect waterways. Curbing carbon pollution is necessary to protect America’s waterways, Other actions are also necessary, like the support of the Clean Water Rule presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers. The rule will protect at least 60 percent of America’s streams and 20 million acres of wetlands nationwide.
Read the report at www.nrcm.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/NWFReportWildlifeInHotWater.pdf.