Heat, Drought, Disease Target Big Game and Their Habitats, Threaten Outdoor Traditions

Rising temperatures, deeper droughts 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.

“The recovery of big game species is one of America’s wildlife conservation success stories, made possible in large part by sustained investment by generations of sportsmen,” said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation “But today, a changing climate threatens to rewrite that success story.”

Wildfire, floods and extreme weather events like heat waves, droughts and heavy rainfall, are becoming more frequent and more severe. Unprecedented changes in habitat are having far-reaching consequences for big game and for sportsmen and women, affecting, for example, the timing of hunting seasons and the distribution and survival of animals.

“We’re already seeing changes where we hunt big game – reduced snowpack, dying forests, shifting migration patterns,” said Todd Tanner, founder and chairman of Conservation Hawks. “We have to let our elected officials know that we need solutions and we need them now. We’re running out of time.”

Nowhere to Run takes a comprehensive look at the best available science on climate change’s impacts on big game, covering moose, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and black bears. The most significant effects include:

  • Heat: 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. Because of warmer fall and winter temperatures, black bears are already more active than usual during times when they normally conserve energy through hibernation, pushing fat stores to the limit.
  • Drought: More droughts have reduced aspen forests in the west, a favorite elk habitat, and many elk are not migrating as much as they traditionally have. Increasing periods of drought, more invasive plants and wildfires will alter sagebrush and grassland ecosystems, favored pronghorn habitats.
  • Parasites and disease: With less snowpack to kill ticks, moose in New Hampshire are literally being eaten alive, losing so much blood to ticks that they die of anemia. White-tailed deer are susceptible to hemorrhagic disease caused by viruses transmitted by biting midges.

“Cutting carbon pollution is the key in the long run, but in the short term we must also take action to help big game survive the climate changes we’re already seeing,” said Dr. Robert Brown, former dean of North Carolina State University’s College of Natural Resources and former president of The Wildlife Society. “We can do this by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation and managing big game populations with a changing climate in mind. But with investments in wildlife research at a generational low, policymakers risk making these decisions in the dark.”

In 2011, there were more than 12 million adult big game hunters who spent more than $16 billion on hunting.  More than 22 million people observed big game near their homes and 10 million traveled to view big game.  Sportsmen have invested decades and millions of dollars in restoring big game habitats and populations, in excise taxes, hunting and fishing licenses and fees.

“Not only are our sporting traditions at risk, but jobs-producing tourism dollars could decline as there will be fewer wildlife to see in America’s wild places,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “To protect America’s outdoor heritage, we must cut carbon pollution, speed our transition to clean energy and safeguard big game and their habitats from climate change.”

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 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.
  4. Factor a changing climate in big game plans and management.

The National Wildlife Federation is also running radio ads educating sportsmen about climate change’s threat to moose in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana and New Hampshire. The version running in Maine, Michigan, Minnesota and Montana is available here: http://bit.ly/MooseRadioAd-MT.

The New Hampshire ad is available here: http://bit.ly/MooseRadioAd-NH.

Read the report at NWF.org/Sportsmen. Nowhere to Run is the latest in the National Wildlife Federation’s 2013 Wildlife in a Warming World series:

Logo courtesy National Wildlife Federation

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  • Dont Fallforit

    What a load of crap.

  • 2elkhunt

    Why can’t warmer weather help increase populations? Last I checked, Africa has much higher densities of animals and is a bit warmer too!
    I’m going outside to burn a tire and do my part to help global warming!

    • Huh?

      Africa is 25% desert.

  • Quint_Caeai

    Temperature has nothing to do with deserts. Or in the occurrence or frequency of droughts. Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, is a desert. The average summer high temperature in the driest place on earth, Chile’s Atacama desert, is only mid-70°s F.

    And carbon has nothing to do with “climate change,” or MMGW, or whatever the
    propagandists are calling it this week. First of all, carbon is a minor player in the greenhouse effect.

    Second, earth’s atmosphere is an incredibly powerful self-righting carbon cycling
    machine, and mankind lacks the ability to derail it. If you think otherwise, you should look into the most cataclysmic climate change event since man learned to walk erect: the Toba Event (ca. 73,000 BC). Mt Toba erupted with the force of 15 million Hiroshima bombs and spewed 670 cubic miles of earth into the air. The Toba event is believed to have cooled the planet for 1000 years, and it killed 90% of all humans world-wide in the process, but the earth fixed all that, all by itself.

    And third, It has been more than 50 years since any of the seven continents experienced their highest recorded temperature, yet two of the seven have experienced their LOWEST recorded temperature within the most recent 30 years. So show me the evidence of global warming.

    The earth gets warmer for a while, then it gets cooler for a while. It’s been doing that for 4 1/2 billion years, and nothing we can do will change that. If you look at Algore’s infamous hockey stick graph, you’ll see the historical carbon concentrations in the atmosphere trails the trends in temperature by several centuries, it doesn’t precede it. Global temperature trends more closely correlate with solar cycles than with anything man is doing (gee, the sun warms the earth? what a concept!). Which is a trend that has been apparent (to anyone who was willing to look) ever since Galileo first described sunspots in 1612. Lots of sun spots means warm days ahead. Fewer sun spots means cooling temps. We’ve known this for 600 years now. At least, everybody except Algore.

    Historically, “global warming” always has been associated with periods of increased prosperity. And creativity. Like the Renaissance. And make no mistake, anybody proselytizing for wind and solar power also is a shill for returning to 19th Century lifestyles, whether they realize it or not.