Mascot Madness: How Climate Change Threatens School Spirit

Urgent Action Needed to Protect Real-Life Species Behind Iconic College Mascots

03-11-2014 // Miles Grant
Mascot Report

With the annual NCAA college basketball tournaments set to begin, a new National Wildlife Federation report details how the climate crisis is hurting the real-life species that are mascots for many of America’s college athletic programs. Climate change is the most serious environmental threat today to many animals and plants and urgent action is needed at all levels, according to Mascot Madness: How Climate Change is Hurting School Spirit.

"We have a new version of March Madness: Extreme weather fueled by climate change, deeper droughts, and intensifying wildfires," said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of Mascot Madness. “From wolverines to gators, species that have spent countless centuries adapting a home court advantage are now watching the rules of the game changed before their eyes by industrial carbon pollution. If we’re going to turn climate change into a Cinderella story, we need to act now."

Mascot Madness looks at the best available science on how climate change is impacting many of America’s best-known mascots, from familiar species like bears and bison to exotic cats like lions and tigers. Warmer temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and rising sea levels are altering habitat in ways that can affect animals’ diet, range and behavior:

  • Wolverines (University of Michigan) rely on deep snowpack for building dens to raise their young and may be declared a threatened species as the climate continues to warm.

  • Terrapins (University of Maryland) and Alligators (University of Florida) face reproductive threats. When alligators overheat, more eggs hatch as males. In contrast, terrapins produce more females in hotter temperatures. Imbalances in sex ratios like these can be a threat to sustaining healthy populations.

  • The entire range of the critically-endangered red wolf, a real-life inspiration for the North Carolina State Wolfpack, is found at only three feet elevation or less, making them extremely vulnerable to rising sea levels and hurricanes.

  • Buckeyes (Ohio State) are threatened by stronger storms, deeper droughts, and more intense heat waves fueled by climate change and are being pushed to migrate north—into rival territory in Michigan.

The National Wildlife Federation’s Mascot Madness report is a creative tool for getting past the noise and engaging people about the real-life impacts of climate change. There is no questioning how serious the numbers are on rising sea levels and global temperatures," said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). "But it is also important to take that to the next level by conveying the public health impacts and the tragic loss of biodiversity that is an undeniable result of a changing climate. Climate change is a reality, and instead of fighting over facts, we need to work together to take action."

The year 2013 tied for the fourth-warmest on record globally, more than a full degree above what was normal in the 20th century. Every single one of the warmest years on record has occurred since 1998.

"From Buffalo seeing their food supply weakened to wildfires and major floods impacting our campus, homes, businesses and natural habitats, climate change is a major challenge,” said Dave Newport, director of the Environmental Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder. “We didn’t bring the American buffalo back from the brink of extinction by waiting for future generations to act. We need to work together to harness America’s spirit of ingenuity and leadership to confront this climate crisis and preserve our nation’s conservation legacy."

Mascot Madness outlines the key steps needed to stem climate change:

  1. Address the underlying cause and cut industrial carbon pollution.
  2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels and avoid polluting energy like coal and tar sands oil.
  3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
  4. Take climate change into account in managing wildlife and plants.
  5. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather and more severe droughts.

"Climate disruption is the most serious threat facing America’s wildlife and requires action at the local, state and federal levels, but we don’t have to sit on the sidelines and watch," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "We need to get out of our seats and ask our elected officials to choose clean energy and make climate-smart investments in protecting our natural resources."

Read the report and get more National Wildlife Federation news at


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