Endangered Legacy: Climate Change Threatens Next Generation of Wildlife

"Climate change is making it harder and harder for many animals to raise their young and keep them well fed and healthy, making parenting increasingly stressful for America’s wildlife.”

05-07-2014 // Miles Grant

Moose and calf

With Mother’s Day approaching and Father’s Day not far behind, future generations of America’s wildlife and our outdoor heritage are already being hurt by climate change, with urgent action needed at all levels to avoid catastrophic changes, according to a new National Wildlife Federation report. Released in the wake of the National Climate Assessment showing climate change is already impacting America, Wildlife Legacy: Climate Change and the Next Generation of Wildlife gives 15 examples of climate change harming young wildlife, from moose calves to tiger cubs.

"Climate change is making it harder and harder for many animals to raise their young and keep them well fed and healthy, making parenting increasingly stressful for America’s wildlife," said Felice Stadler, senior director for climate and energy at the National Wildlife Federation and herself a mother of two young children. “That threatens not only future generations of wildlife, but the outdoor heritage that our parents and grandparents worked so hard to build, protect and pass on to us.”

The report details how the young of many treasured species are at risk because of a changing climate, a situation that will worsen if the nation does not curb carbon pollution:

  • Moose: Winter ticks, thriving due to warmer, shorter winters, are infesting moose in record numbers. In New Hampshire this spring, one study showed 64 percent of yearling moose died. Summer heat stress also leads to lower weights and declining pregnancy rates and increased vulnerability to predators and disease.
  • Polar bears: With sea ice melting earlier in the season and forming later, polar bears are being forced onto the shores where they are not able to hunt seals. This cuts their seal hunting season by almost three weeks which means less food for cubs too.  And as some seas become rougher, more cubs are at risk of drowning.
  • Fish: Brook trout and their young – “fingerlings” – need cold, clean water. As rising temperatures warm streams and rob water of oxygen, brook trout eggs face a struggle to survive. Warmer water temperatures also put smallmouth bass at risk because fertilized eggs may not get enough dissolved oxygen. In Alaska last summer, a record-setting heat wave killed thousands of salmon and trout.
  • Sea Turtles and Hatchlings: If turtle eggs are incubated at 88 degrees Fahrenheit or above, hatchlings are more likely to be female. Warmer temperatures could create a gender imbalance among turtle hatchlings. Sea level rise is flooding coastal areas and could cause a 49 to 80 percent decline in central Atlantic Coast beaches, critical sea turtle nesting habitat.

"As this week’s release of the National Climate Assessment documented, climate change is here and it’s already playing havoc with our communities and wildlife habitat,” said Stadler. “What we need is the political leadership to take an all-of-the-above approach to cutting carbon pollution and to make climate-smart investments in protecting our natural resources. We can’t leave this problem for our children and grandchildren to fix – they’ll judge us based on what we do now."

The report specifies the key steps needed to stem climate change:

  • Reduce carbon pollution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should continue using its Clean Air Act authority to cut climate-disrupting industrial carbon pollution from the largest sources like coal-fired power plants.
  • Reduce fossil fuels use and reject expansion of dirty fuels. Oil, gas, coal and other fossil fuel development degrade and fragment habitat, exacerbating climate stressors for wildlife.
  • Invest in clean energy development. We must transition to cleaner, less-polluting forms of energy, like geothermal, wind, solar, sustainable bioenergy and more energy efficiency measures to reduce the carbon pollution that is driving climate change.
  • Safeguarding wildlife and their habitat. We need to design and implement conservation plans that take into account the changing climate. As we continue to feel the effects of climate change, focusing on helping wildlife and their habitat will help save them for the enjoyment of generations to come.

 

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