New Report: Summer Pests like Ticks, Mosquitoes & Toxic Algae Worsened by Climate Change

"We used to think of climate change as a distant, far-off issue. Now, we can see it happening in our own backyards."

08-19-2014 // Miles Grant

Ticked OffToxic algae outbreaks like the one that poisoned drinking water in Lake Erie are just one of many summer threats being worsened by manmade climate change, according to a new report from the National Wildlife Federation. Ticked Off: America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change explains how deer ticks, tiger mosquitoes and fire ants are getting a boost from warmer temperatures and milder winters – and in the case of poison ivy, from carbon pollution itself.

“At a time when disconnect from nature is already harming the health and well-being of America’s children, climate change is now adding a new obstacle for parents by giving a boost to annoying summer pests,” said Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “We need to act now to protect America’s outdoors by using climate-smart conservation strategies and by cutting climate-disrupting industrial carbon pollution, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed limits are an important step in the right direction.”

Ticked Off examines climate change’s impacts on eight species, including:

  • Deer Ticks & Winter Ticks: Warmer winters are allowing expansion of the range of deer tick populations faster than projected, increasing the exposure of Americans to ticks and raising the risk of Lyme disease. Meanwhile, exploding populations of winter ticks have devastated moose populations in northern New England.
  • Tiger Mosquitoes: The number of people in New England exposed to the tiger mosquito could double to about 30 million. Tiger mosquitoes can transmit 30 different viruses to humans, including West Nile virus.
  • Fire Ants: These ants could advance from the Southeast northward by about 80 miles and spread in total area by 21 percent, threatening people with painful bites and invading the ground nests of the bobwhite quail, a key species for sportsmen.
  • Toxic Algae: Warmer rivers, streams and lakes are being hit with more outbreaks of toxic algae that thrive in warm waters and deplete the oxygen fish need to survive. Heavier downpours are increasing nutrient-heavy runoff that fuels more algal growth and oxygen depletion.
  • Poison Ivy: More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is accelerating the growth and increasing the abundance of vines like poison ivy. With higher carbon dioxide levels in the air, poison ivy produces a more allergenic form of urushiol, the toxic chemical that causes those irritating rashes.

“This summer, climate change is teaming up with pests to kick sand in our faces,” said Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. “Whether you’re a day hiker, a weekend sport fisherman, or a backyard gardener, you need to know that unless we act now to cut carbon pollution, climate change will continue to alter your favorite places and give a leg up to the pests that live there.”

More than 90 million Americans participate in wildlife-related recreation, spending nearly $145 billion each year, according to the 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey.

“We used to think of climate change as a distant, far-off issue. Now, we can see it happening in our own backyards,” said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. “By failing to cut our carbon emissions, we’re putting what we love about nature and the outdoors – and even more importantly, the health of our own kids – at risk.”

Passing along a strong connection to America’s outdoor heritage is a key concern of sportsmen. A 2012 sportsmen poll by the National Wildlife Federation showed 91 percent of hunters and anglers say children's disconnection from nature and the outdoors threatens the future of wildlife conservation in America. 

Pamela Wanamaker“In just the last 15 years, we’ve watched New Hampshire’s moose population cut in half, many of them literally eaten alive by winter ticks that thrive in warmer temperatures,” said Eric Orff, New Hampshire outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation and a retired wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “I spent three decades of my life working to restore fish and wildlife in New Hampshire, I want to confront climate change now to make sure those gains are preserved for my grandchildren and generations to come.”

“Here on the shores of the Great Lakes, we’re feeling the impact of climate change as algae blooms fueled by warm temperatures threaten not only our drinking water but the fish our outdoor economy depends on,” said Tina Skeldon Wozniak, member of the Board of County Commissioners in Ohio’s Lucas County. “If we don’t act now to cut industrial carbon pollution, our health, our jobs, and our outdoor traditions are at risk.”

Ticked Off outlines the key steps needed to stem climate change and save the outdoor experience:

  1. Address the underlying cause and cut carbon pollution by supporting the Clean Power Plan, which will establish limits on the amount of carbon pollution released by power plants.
  2. Transition to clean, wildlife-friendly 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 and expanding protections to key land and seascapes.
  4. Help communities become resilient and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather and more severe droughts.



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