An excellent panel discussion on how climate change impacts Wisconsin fish and wildlife was held on April 1st.  The free event was attended by 114 people who came to Ben Franklin Junior High in Stevens Point to listen and participate in the discussion.

Panelists included George Meyer, former Secretary of the WDNR and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Wisconsin’s largest sporting organization; Dr. Mike Notaro, Associate Director of the Center for Climatic Research at the UW-Madison; Dr. Matt Mitro, a cold-water fisheries scientist with the WDNR; Dr. Ben Zuckerberg, a professor of wildlife ecology at the UW-Madison.  Dr. Dan Dieterich, leader of the Central Wisconsin Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, was the panel’s moderator.

Dr. Dieterich began the discussion by noting that the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows extreme weather-related conditions are occurring all over the world due to global warming.
Dr. Dieterich said that the CCL is lobbying to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax to fight the worst effects of climate change.

Well documented evidence of ongoing climate change and its effects were presented describing how fish and wildlife in Wisconsin and across the United States will be affected.  Dr. Notaro presented information showing how climate trends, from 1950 through 2006, indicate warming and an earlier growing season by more than 2 weeks.  “Weather patterns are changing more rapidly now,” Dr. Notaro noted.

Dr. Mitro presented models of fish habitat and discussed how climate changes affect populations of fish such as brook trout, which are very sensitive to temperature differences, and brown trout, which adapt better to warmer temperatures.  As fish habitats warm, evidence shows an increase in parasites and altered abilities to adapt to surroundings and access food supplies.

The rate of climate change is increasing, and data show that recent years have been the warmest in the last 1400 years, Dr. Zuckerberg pointed out.  As the planet warms, animals’ ranges are moving north.  There will be “winners” and “losers” regarding the ability of animals to adapt.  Sensitivity to weather conditions, available food, general habitat requirements and sensitivity to human population affect animals’ ability to survive.  Many animals will go extinct as a result of climate change.

Sportsmen are noticing the effects of climate change the most as conditions have changed dramatically in recent years, according to Dr. Meyer.  Lakes aren’t freezing, snow cover has been minimal, in some areas, and forests are diminishing, resulting in conditions in which animals aren’t able to adapt.  Groups such as the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited and Ducks Unlimited have ongoing data showing how animals’ habitats are affected.  Dr. Meyer encouraged interested individuals to go to the WICCI website to learn more.

In the follow-up discussion, attendees indicated serious concerns about funding cuts as research needs to be done to help preserve wildlife.  The evidence is clear that the time to act is now to both mitigate the worst effects of climate change and adapt to the consequences of climate change that we can’t prevent.