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Report claims climate change threatens hunting, fishing

12/01/2015, 12:00am EST
By BY MATT MARKEY BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

National Wildlife Federation trying to raise awareness

Climate change threatens hunting, fishing

While President Obama and other world leaders took to the podium halfway around the world to lay out the big picture in terms of what they expect climate change could do to the planet, the focus was much more local on Monday when representatives from the National Wildlife Federation and a leading area conservationist stated their case, with Wildwood Preserve Metro Park as the backdrop.

The thrust of the presentation pointed at the threats that climate change could pose to America’s traditions of hunting and fishing, and the major economic impact that would have on the region. The National Wildlife Federation released its report titled Game Changers: Climate Impacts to America’s Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Heritage to coincide with the current international attention on the topic of climate change.

“We’re trying to raise awareness and prevent the day when we might have to cease hunting and fishing the way we do now,” said Greg Ely of the National Wildlife Federation. “This area could be impacted in a negative and very real way by climate change. There is the possibility we could see massive changes in the populations of wildlife and fish.”

Ely said he urges hunters, anglers, birders, and anyone interested in outdoors and wildlife to support changes that have been widely proposed to protect the environment, and to lobby elected officials on the local, state and national level to do the same.

“It’s not about this party or that party — this should be a nonpolitical issue. It’s a human issue,” he said. “The people in this region can provide a template for other areas to follow. We just need to take this issue seriously.”

Local charter fishing captain Dave Spangler of Oak Harbor, who is the president of the Lake Erie Waterkeeper organization, a former charter captain of the year, and an officer with the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, said he is sharing the message of the dangers associated with climate change with as many anglers and groups as he can.

“This is the big elephant in the room, because with climate change and those major rain events it brings, there is a close connection with the algae problems we’ve been facing on Lake Erie,” he said. “A lot of people saw and experienced what happened in the lake this year. After those big summer storms, we couldn’t fish for a week, and business associated with the lake was down 15-25 percent. Along with the environmental impact, there’s a huge economic impact connected to this, as well.”

Spangler said he hopes to see sportsmen’s groups get involved and push the agricultural community, and the health departments of cities, counties, and the state, to help mitigate the amount of phosphorus and other materials entering the lake during major rain events, which feed the harmful algal blooms.

“If we get everyone working together, we can get a handle on slowing this process down,” he said. “When the increasing number of big storms brought on by climate change dump all of this stuff into the lake and churn up the legacy phosphorus on the bottom, the algae goes crazy.”

Spangler said a warmer lake means a change in the fall migration pattern of walleyes, bringing those fish back to the Western Basin later in the year than in the past, but that he views the mammoth rain events as more of a threat.

“Those big shots of rain really hurt,” he said. “It’s a huge concern, because we’ve had three straight years of good hatches of walleye and yellow perch and the potential is there for years of fantastic fishing down the road, but we have to do everything we can now to protect that future.”

Former Toledo City Councilman Frank Szollosi, who is based in Ann Arbor as the Great Lakes Regional Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, said climate change has had many other negative impacts on fish and wildlife, beyond its role in the Lake Erie algal blooms.

Szollosi cited the northward march of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), a viral disease carried by biting midges that emerge in late summer, and its destructive influence on the moose populations across the northern tier of states. He said the longer, warmer summers brought on by climate change stress the animals and increase the spread of the midges.

“We’ve seen the impact as this pushes north with climate change. What this disease does to moose is terrible, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I’m very concerned that we’ll see more of that.”

Szollosi said that besides the threats climate change poses to the fish and wildlife that are native to this region, it is scary to consider what potential impact continued climate change might have on the migration of various species, including the many warblers that stage along the lake each spring on their trip to nesting grounds in the forests of the north.

“There are a lot of different drivers involved in climate change, but we have to look at what we are doing and understand that human actions have a role in all of this,” he said. “Hunters and anglers need to take the long view on this, and what impact it will have down the line. I would ask people to think about the next generation and the one after that, and also encourage folks to just follow the science.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.

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