As the United States writhes in one of the driest and hottest summers in history, with nearly two-thirds of the lower 48 states experiencing some form of drought, millions of Americans (including farmers and ranchers) are struggling from the resulting loss of income and higher prices for food and fuel. Other recent disturbing news illustrates the practical implications this weather event can have on fish and wildlife. Millions of fish – sturgeon, large- and smallmouth bass, channel catfish and other species – are dying in the Midwest as water temperatures skyrocket to as high as 100 degrees.
What is clear: both the human toll and the impacts to fish and wildlife caused by a changing climate and warmer temperatures have real consequences and cannot be ignored.
A new NASA report states that climate change is responsible for recent extreme weather events and that the probability of unusually warm summers has greatly increased. Now, Dr. Richard A. Muller, a physicist known for his staunch denial of global warming, has concluded that global warming is in fact real, with human production of carbon dioxide causing the world to slowly warm.
“I’m personally very worried,” says Dr. Muller. “I personally suspect that it will be bad.”
Of course, many continue to refute the science underlying climate change and indict the majority of scientists who accept its existence for promulgating a political agenda. In my opinion, as the TRCP’s climate change initiative manager, these individuals are simply resistant to accepting the reality of what science has made abundantly clear: climate change is real, and it already is affecting our natural resources, fish and wildlife and outdoor opportunities.
I recently wrote a guest article in The Seattle Times arguing that to develop an effective approach to addressing climate change, we cannot rely solely on public opinion polls. We must pay attention to those who are “voting with their feet” – the fish and wildlife that cannot debate habitability in the public square and must adapt to or migrate from changing habitat or die.
At the TRCP, we accept the growing evidence that climate change is real and that changes go well beyond disturbances driven by entirely natural forces. We regularly consult with fish and wildlife biologists in state and federal agencies throughout the United States on the habits, distribution and abundance of fish and wildlife.
The facts leave no doubt that climate change is undeniable. Here are a few examples:
- Even before this year’s Midwestern fish kills from hot water, smallmouth bass have been migrating upstream nearly 40 miles in the warming Yellowstone River, displacing Yellowstone cutthroat that require colder water.
- Warming winters and summers have led to an explosion in mountain pine beetle infestations over millions of acres in many Western pine forests, causing a dramatic conversion of forest cover to grass and shrub meadows in elk habitat. This leads to changes in elk populations and distribution during hunting seasons.
- In a direct response to warmer springs and summers and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, invasive cheatgrass has out-competed sagebrush and native grasses and shrubs throughout 100 million acres of the sagebrush steppe in the West, leading to decreased mule deer and greater sage-grouse habitat and populations, as well as diminished hunting opportunities.
What is the TRCP doing now? We are actively working to inform, educate and mobilize sportsmen by reporting timely data from state fish and wildlife agencies and federal land management agencies. Our state-specific presentations highlight the implications of a changing environment on fish and wildlife and the consequences for sustainable hunting and fishing. We’ve developed presentations for Montana, Washington and Colorado – with Oregon and New Mexico in the works.
Rather than debating specific points of air temperature or carbon dioxide data, the TRCP focuses on the cascading effects of a changing climate in the biological world, including impacts to species of fish and game most important to sportsmen. We highlight on-the-ground projects that help fish and wildlife adapt to a changing environment.
We are taking these state-specific presentations directly to sportsmen-based clubs throughout the West with the goal of providing factual evidence on climate change. Take five minutes to watch the video below and draw your own conclusions.