Global Warming Could Hurt Hunting, Fishing

Global warming could hurt hunting, angling By Tony Dean For the Sioux Falls, SD Argus Leader Published: February 14, 2007 Hunters and anglers can expect some big changes as a result of global warming. Those changes could include a decline in the quality of many of America's Blue Ribbon trout streams that begin in the Rocky Mountains, a potential dramatic decline in continental duck populations and similar downturn in some of the nation's finest walleye fisheries. Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Climate Change Organization warn of extended drought that will likely disrupt flows in many Blue Ribbon streams. That could mean more heat, smaller snowpacks, an earlier snowmelt, more evaporation and dryness, more flood control release, less groundwater, and more legal restrictions on western water use. In the Missouri, Columbia, Rio Grande and Colorado river basins, the most recent five-year period was the hottest in the past 110 years. John Cooper, the recently retired Secretary of the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department, says reduced runoff from the mountains and prairies that feed the huge Missouri River reservoirs in Montana and the Dakotas, have resulted in the lowest water levels in history, and worries about the ability of managers to maintain their walleye fisheries. Another scientist who's been studying climate change for over a decade, Dr. Carter Johnson, a distinguished professor of Ecology at South Dakota State University, says continued drought could result in drying up most of the marshes in the prairie pothole region, which is known as America's "duck factory." Eventually says Johnson, "We could expect to lose up to half of the ducks in the fall flight, which could mean an end to duck seasons." Johnson said that if climate predictions are correct, the only area within the prairie pothole region that will get enough rain includes a tiny portion of southern Minnesota and a larger chunk of north central Iowa. In both areas, drainage has already resulted in the loss of most wetlands, and restoration of drained wetlands will be extremely expensive because of high land values. How high? A 350 acres parcel in Cerro Gordo county, just south of Mason City, recently sold for $5,500 per acre, the highest price ever for Iowa farmland. At those land prices, most experts believe it will be nearly impossible to restore wetlands in those areas. Cooper says a lack of rain and snow in the mountains and prairies in the Missouri River watershed will hurt Missouri River fishing. Unfortunately, the winter and spring periods see the greatest warming, something that has been consistent with projections. This has a large impact on the size of snowpacks and the timing of the snowmelt. Snowpacks have been below average for 13 of the last 16 years in the Columbia River Basin, 11 of the last 16 years in the Colorado River Basin, 14 of the last 16 years in the Missouri River basin, and 10 of the last 16 years in the Rio Grande River basin. This is further evidence that climate disruption is already affecting the western half of the nation. Worse, many scientists believe these disruptions are but the tip of the iceberg. In spite of the evidence, there are still many who doubt climate change is real, something Dr. Johnson takes issue with. "About 95 percent or more of the scientists studying climate change agree this is reality," he said, adding "I belong in the majority." Droughts mean a probable increase in wildfires, while warmer winter temperatures increase the likelihood of mountain pine beetle survival, killing more trees which in turn provides more fuel for dangerous fires. In 2001, the National Academy of Science reported, "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming over the past 50 years, is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, accurately reflects the thinking of the scientific community on this issue." Future projections suggest that even using a conservative model, the current demands on western water resources cannot be met. In addition to the above species, experts believe that most upland birds will also be affected, though big game is likely to be affected the least.