Climate change threatens big-game populations

Staff writerNovember 24, 2013 

Deer populations, including mule deer, are suffering the affects of climate change, according to a report from the National Wildlife Federation.

STATE DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Big-game populations are suffering the effects of climate change, and their declining numbers threaten the nation’s $730 billion outdoor recreation economy.

So says “Nowhere to Run: Big Game Wildlife in a Warming World,” a report released Nov. 13 by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report cites the efforts of sportsmen in the 20th century to rebuild populations of animals such as elk, deer, black bear, moose, bighorn sheep and pronghorn.

Those efforts have been aided by an infusion of nearly $10 billion through an 11 percent manufacturer’s excise tax on guns, ammunition and archery equipment. The revenue, created by the Pittman-Robertson Act, is disbursed to state wildlife agencies for wildlife conservation and hunter education programs.

Since the act was approved in 1939, Washington has received more than $155.6 million for such programs.

Conservation efforts have brought populations that were perilously close to extinction back to fairly healthy levels.

One example in the report is the elk population. The original elk population was estimated at 10 million, plummeting to about 50,000 or fewer by the early 20th century. But efforts led by sportsmen, the report said, have help the nationwide population rebound to about 1 million.

“But today, a changing climate threatens to rewrite that success story,” the report reads. “Severe drought, rising temperatures and greater weather extremes are affecting the health, habitat, and food and water supply of every big game species.”

Doug Inkley, a senior scientist for the federation, was one of the lead writers of the report.

“This is very real, it is happening right now. The success of the past is being challenged by climate change,” he said during a news conference.

Citing moose as an example, Inkley talked about the impact heat is having on populations nationwide.

“Moose become heat-stressed in warm weather, they stop eating, seeking out shelter instead,” he said. “That leads to lower weights, lower pregnancy rates, higher death rates.”

The report is careful not to solely blame climate change for population declines. It also cites habitat loss and predation. But climate change, the report emphasizes, impacts animals in so many ways.

Extreme weather threatens survivability. Animals weakened by declining food sources are more susceptible to disease.

Alexis Bonogofsky, tribal lands program manager for the federation, also took part in the news conference.

A fourth-generation Montanan, landowner and hunter, Bonogofsky talked about how hunting is about food, tradition and family culture.

She talked about recent hunting trips during which friends lost meat because it spoiled in the warm weather. “Last year, I gutted my deer while wearing a T-shirt in November,” she said.

“To me, this is deeply personal. It impacts who I am, who my family is,” Bonogofsky said. “We can’t wait because it is happening now.”

To combat climate change, the report calls on hunters and wildlife watchers to urge leaders to take four key steps:

• Cut carbon emissions in half by 2030.

• Make the transition to alternate energy sources.

• Safeguard wildlife and their habitat from the effects of climate change.

• Manage big game by considering climate change in management policies.

Todd Tanner, founder and chairman of Conservation Hawks, said during the news conference he can see the impacts of climate change in the declining forests in Montana’s Swan Range.

“Unless we start to address climate change immediately, most of our landscapes will be vastly different in 30 to 40 years. That is bad for big game,” Tanner said.

“We are just starting to see this stuff. Climate change isn’t a destination, but a process,” Tanner added. “If we don’t get up and change the channel, we’re going to regret it the rest of our lives.”

LEARN MORE

You can read the National Wildlife Federation’s report at nwf.org/sportsmen.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com
thenewstribune.com/outdoors

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