FISHING FOR SOLUTIONS: The report, released by a coalition of hunting and fishing organizations, outlines the consequences of climate change for fish and wildlife in the U.S. Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
NEW YORK - For the average United States' city or 'burb dweller, firsthand evidence of climate change is rare. Hunters and anglers see it every day.
That's one of the main messages from a coalition of hunting and fishing organizations that released a report Monday outlining the consequences of climate change for fish and wildlife in the United States.
"It's very evident that major shifts are under way," said Richard Kearney, assistant regional director for climate change for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Southwest region, which was unaffiliated with the report. "We are just now seeing the first stages of big changes in the distribution of fish and wildlife and (their) habitats."
The report, "Beyond Seasons' End," suggests a number of strategies to help wildlife adapt. It expands upon a 2008 report, "Seasons' End," by detailing specific projects for habitat stewardship along with associated costs.
The coalition includes Trout Unlimited, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Pheasants Forever and the Boone & Crockett Club.
"We didn't think it was enough to outline the problems," said Steven Williams, President of Wildlife Management Institute. "We wanted to take the next step and show how to adapt."
The document targets fishers and hunters, but everyone should be concerned, Williams added.
"What happens to game species like pheasants, duck, elk, and trout will happen to non-game species, too," he said. "As go fish and wildlife, so go human health and quality of life."
These conservation efforts, Kearney added, are complementary to other efforts in the fish and wildlife community that focus on all wildlife species.
William Geer, director of the Center for Western Lands at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, agreed: "These conservation projects help lots of wildlife, not just the species people hunt and fish."
According to the report, coldwater fish like trout and salmon face intolerably higher water temperatures and diminished stream habitat. Waterfowl must change their seasonal migration patterns and nesting locations. And big game species like elk trek to higher elevations to escape the summer heat.
One of the primary adaptation strategies is maintaining the quality and quantity of water for fish migration and reproduction. "The fish don't have enough water to pass over barriers where they used to go," Geer said. Many streams sustained by snowmelt during summer have been imperiled by decreased snowfall in recent years.
"We also need to protect crucial areas for breeding and the corridors to those areas," Geer said, referring to another principal adaptation strategy. Corridors are links between different geographical regions that allow wildlife to migrate and find food and mates.
The report stresses both the need for immediate action and the lack of necessary funding. "It's cheaper and more effective to start now than later," Williams said. "In 10 or 15 years, some of the steps we can take today will no longer be available to us."
The cost of the initiatives sought by the coalition totals billions of dollars annually. But the potential price of inaction - both to the environment and economy - could be "catastrophic," the group warned.
"We're not going to get all the funding we need," admitted Geer, "but something will come in and we'll do the best we can.... We are a large political constituency that is willing to get organized and ask for it. We are just one constituency of many, but we think we're big enough to persuade Congress."
The coalition hopes that cap-and-trade could provide much of the funding. The American Clean Energy and Security Act, known as the Waxman-Markey bill and passed by the House last June, creates a fund to help government adaptation strategies. The legislation is stalled in the Senate, but the coalition believes that fund could generate $600 million per year initially and eventually ramp up to nearly $5 billion per year.
"Fishing and hunting are really just the dividends of good stewardship of land and water," Geer said. "Ultimately the livability of the earth for humans is tied to the quality of habitat for wildlife."
"Fish and wildlife are the litmus test of environmental health."
Ferris Jabr is a science journalist based in New York City and an intern at Environmental Health Sciences, the nonprofit news service that publishes DailyClimate.org.