California Fish and Wildlife Feeling the Heat

New Report Details Global Warming Threat to California s $8.2 Billion Outdoor Recreation Economy

05-01-2008 // Aileo Weinmann

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Global warming is already taking a toll on California's waterways and the outdoor recreation economy they sustain, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation and the Planning and Conservation League Foundation. If business continues as usual, spring-run Chinook salmon could disappear from the Central Valley, according to new peer-reviewed scientific data.

At risk are river, wetland, and coastal habitats, home to fish, waterfowl, and other birds that annually contribute to $8.2 billion of spending in California and attract more than 8.1 million wildlife watchers, 1.7 million anglers and 284,000 hunters.

On The Edge: Protecting California's Fish and Waterfowl from Global Warming presents a detailed region-by-region analysis of the best new scientific data on (1) The current regional impacts of rising temperatures and other climatic changes on habitat, fish and wildlife; 2) Projected future impacts on the outdoor recreation industry, if no actions are taken to reduce global warming pollution; and (3) Critical steps required to protect at-risk habitats, species and dependent outdoor traditions.

Commercial salmon fishing is a $150-million business in California. New, peer-reviewed scientific research described in the report finds that spring-run Central Valley Chinook salmon--which used to inhabit 6,000 river miles but now are found in only about 300 river miles--could be wiped out if global warming continues unabated.

"The recent closure of the multi-million dollar Pacific Coast salmon fishing season is just the tip of a melting iceberg," said Larry Schweiger, President & CEO, National Wildlife Federation. "More than 10 million people in California are wildlife watchers or sportsmen. The global warming issue cuts across all income levels, all political boundaries, and all religious beliefs. If you like to hunt, fish or watch wildlife, you're affected."

"Without decisive action to address global warming, all the hard-fought progress made by so many to protect and restore California's diverse habitats could be lost," said Brian Stranko, Executive Director, California Trout. "Hanging in the balance is our sportsman's heritage and the billions of dollars that healthy fish, waterfowl and habitats contribute to California's economy."

"Most of California's ecosystems are already fragile, having withstood years of pressure from human activities. Without decisive action, global warming could push them over the edge," said Matt Vander Sluis, Global Warming Program Manager, Planning and Conservation League Foundation. "The single most important conservation action we can take is to quickly reverse the growth of global warming pollution."

Among the report's key findings:

  • In the Sierra Nevada, as deep, cold pools become increasingly shallow and warm, most steelhead trout habitat and potentially all spring-run salmon habitat may disappear (including habitat supporting the golden trout, California's state fish). Historically, one to three million Chinook salmon spawned in the western Sierra, feeding a recreational fishing industry currently valued at about $200 million annually. In April, for the first time in 150 years, the commercial salmon season closed.
  • A projected 66 percent decrease in snow pack in the Cascades would greatly reduce the snowmelt feeding the Klamath River Basin. The resulting low river flows would spell disaster for fish in one of the world's best fishing spots for salmon and cutthroat trout.
  • Hotter, drier summers with low stream flows will threaten wetland habitat for waterfowl species that breed in the Central Valley, including the wood duck, the cinnamon teal, and the gadwall.
  • Sea-level rise will erode beaches along California's South Coast and inundate coastal wetlands and estuaries that provide important habitat for the Western snowy plover, light-footed clapper rail, California least tern, and other species prized by birdwatchers.

The worst impacts can be avoided by taking action now, according to the report. Important steps will be to:

  • Develop comprehensive and aggressive greenhouse gas reduction policies that steadily cut global warming pollution 2 percent per year to meet an 80 percent reduction goal by mid-century that scientists say is necessary to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change;
  • Include all major sources of global warming pollution: electric power companies, factories, and the transportation sector (the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California);
  • Ensure polluters pay to pollute, with some of the revenue generated dedicated to fund programs to protect California's critical natural resources, invest in clean technology and mitigate impacts on low-income communities;
  • Create a new water management regime for California that benefits people, fish and wildlife; and
  • Help wildlife survive impacts now considered inevitable due to past and current global warming pollution.

"We don't have time to waste," said Stranko. "California can lead the nation and the world in meeting this urgent challenge. Our children and grandchildren are counting on us to protect what is important--including that Saturday morning outing with a fishing pole."

PRIMARY MEDIA CONTACT and for local spokespeople, select photos from the report - Aileo Weinmann, National Wildlife Federation, 202-797-6801

Matt Vander Sluis, Planning and Conservation League Foundation, 916-313-4515

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