Climate Change on the Gunflint Trail

There are believers and non-believers of climate change. I recently read two separate articles about climate change and how it affects both the places and things we love.  One article is about the decline of moose in New Hampshire due to the lack of cold temperatures that kill ticks.  The other is about the loss of precious places and experiences because of climate change.

On the Gunflint Trail the moose population is declining and the forest is slowly changing. We have ticks which were never a problem 10-15 years ago.  We have changes both subtle and not so subtle. Things are changing. Can we stop them? It’s doubtful but if we try then we might just be able to slow them down.

Director, NRDC Action Fund

Going on Vacation With Climate Change
Posted: 08/09/2013 9:34 am

Perhaps you have noticed the new seasonal indicator: Millions of Americans are flocking to Facebook and Instagram to post photos of their favorite summertime places. I have seen gorgeous shots of local beaches, national parks, and Griswold-like tours of distant landmarks. I even uploaded my own pictures from a family gathering in Minnesota. At the start of the trip, I thought I would be eaten alive by black flies but I fell in love with the calm lake waters and tree-lined vistas, and I happily posted my Boundary Waters photos when I returned.

Wherever your travels take you these days, you might notice that the mixture of sunny skies and vacation time brings out the beauty in our country. From the tide pools of Point Reyes to the dunes of Cape Cod, our nation sparkles in the summer. But there is a storm brewing over the horizon.

Climate change is threatening many of the places we love so much. It is making beautiful beaches like Hilton Head erode in the face of sea-level rise. It is causing Glacier National Park to lose its namesake glaciers. It is making famous fly-fishing spots like the Yellowstone River too warm for large numbers of trout and salmon. It is contaminating Lake Erie coastline with dangerous algae blooms. In short, it is undermining the sandy beaches, mountain peaks, scout campgrounds, and desert trails where we have made treasured memories with friends and families.

If you care about the places you visit this summer, then come back from vacation ready to demand climate action.

Everyone knows all politics are local, so make global warming local. Help lawmakers connect the dots between carbon pollution and the destroyed landscapes, lost tourist dollars, and damaged property they are seeing in their own districts.

Those connections are clear outside of Austin, for instance. The pretty lakes that dot the countryside usually draw plenty of swimmers and boaters. But now that Texas is in the grip of a severe drought, business is drying up. Rusty Brandon told USA Today he can’t attract customers to his Hi-Line Lake Resort because that there isn’t enough water in the lake for boating or fishing. Brandon, who had to file for bankruptcy, said, “I’m literally on the front line of experiencing climate change daily.”

Many local leaders are trying to protect valuable destinations from climate change. In Rhode Island, officials are trying to figure out how to prepare the Block Island ferry terminal from sea-level rise. The city of Phoenix calls on golf courses to use treated wastewater on their grounds to preserve freshwater resources in the midst of prolonged drought.

There are similar adaptations going on around the nation, but some influential community members don’t yet recognize that climate change is endangering their local treasures. The NRDC Action Fund recently interviewed prominent Michigan residents and learned that while they are concerned about climate change, they want to put their energies into protecting the Great Lakes. They saw these as two separate issues, when in fact they are one and the same.

I understand why people work to restore the Great Lakes. These waters nurture ecosystems, attract millions of visitors, and generate enormous economic growth. But preservation efforts could be short-circuited if we don’t also confront what climate change is doing to the Great Lakes — from algae blooms to loss of lake ice.

People often prefer to think in terms of places rather than issues. If you say climate change is a worldwide problem, they might nod their heads. But if you tell them climate change is undermining their favorite beach, they will be more motivated to do something about it.

Political winds could start to shift when more constituents start talking about local climate impacts. Right now, opponents would have a tough time defeating Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) on climate change alone. But if we can show that Upton is an enemy of the Great Lakes because he continually obstructs efforts to confront climate change and all the damage it is doing to the region, then he suddenly becomes more vulnerable for failing to protect a place of great importance to voters.

What place matters most in your community? What vacation spot do love the most? Whether it is a local swimming hole or a distant mountain trail, tell your lawmakers you want to protect it from the hazards of climate change.

With warmer winters, ticks devastating N.H. moose population

By , Published: August 9

It’s only a few weeks until the end of summer, a terrible time to be a moose in the New Hampshire wild.

Tens of millions of winter ticks are preparing to hatch next month from eggs hidden in thick brush. They will wait there to hitch a ride on a moose and suck its blood until the end of May.

They can send a moose to its death, with up to 150,000 dining on every calf, cow and bull in certain parts of the Granite State, wildlife biologists estimate.

There was a time when eggs laid in this age-old cycle perished on winter snow. But that hasn’t happened lately in New Hampshire, where a warming trend has winters starting later and ending sooner.

A single female lays 3,000 eggs the size of salt crystals. With warmer weather, ticks don’t die, they multiply.

Winter ticks are one-host parasites that feed on a single animal through their lifetimes. As the number of ticks explodes, moose have disappeared by the thousands in areas where they were most abundant. Many of those still alive are eerily thin, with rib cages visible through ragged skin. They are mere shadows of themselves, zombies with antlers.

“It’s pretty depressing,” said Kristine Rines, a wildlife biologist and moose project leader for the state’s Fish and Game Department. “It’s a pretty tough way to go. There’s no question that climate plays a huge part in this. If we had winters that lasted as long as they used to, we might not be having this conversation.”

New Hampshire’s struggle with moose is part of a nationwide trend, according to the Wildlife Management Institute, a nonprofit group established by sportsmen and businessmen concerned about wild populations.

A rise in moose die-offs has been reported in Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, other parts of the Rocky Mountains and a sliver of North Dakota. In Montana, Minnesota and North Dakota, it’s not clear that ticks are the entire problem, leaving scientists baffled over why so many moose have fallen.

Only Maine, where colder winters and snow still kill ticks, is showing a population increase, with more than 75,000 in the state’s range.

Moose are more than oafish creatures that lumber across the wilderness. They are the largest of the deer species, with bulls that top 1,800 pounds and grow antlers six feet wide.

The impact of reduced moose populations reverberates through an ecosystem. Moose serve as walking lawn mowers, clearing brush and creating spaces for smaller species, such as rabbits and birds, to hide from predators. Moose also provide hearty meals for coyotes and bears; a single carcass can feed these animals for days.

But loaded with ticks, they scratch until their fur falls off. They develop anemia and starve, Rines said.

They eventually become so stressed from tens of thousands of tiny bites every minute and every day that they can’t eat even if food is handed to them. “They look terrible. Their body weights are down. They have secondary skin infections from multiple bites,” Rines said, and they lose so much fur that they freeze whenever the weather manages to turn cold.

“In the central and White Mountain portion of the state where winters are short, we’ve seen a steady decline over the past five to seven years,” Rines said. The state’s moose population is about 4,500, at least 3,000 fewer than five years ago.

New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Wildlife Journal magazine wrote about the moose die-off from tick infestation in 2011 under the headline “Ghost in the Woods.” Moose-watching tours generate $115 million yearly in New Hampshire, but operators say current tours last hours longer than in past years as they seek to spot a single moose.

Minnesota’s moose mortality rate is so high that the state canceled its annual hunt in February. The decision followed a 35 percent decline in Minnesota’s moose population in a part of the state where it was strong, from 4,200 animals to 2,700 in a one-year survey that started in 2012.

Wildlife officials in Minnesota kept coming across moose carcasses of all ages that haven’t been scavenged. Studies were inconclusive, but indicated that the problem was health-related.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources plunked down $1.2 million to study why the animals continue to die. Previous research showed Minnesota’s mortality rate was far higher than in other states. Over several years in the late 1990s and 2000, 8,000 moose disappeared in the state’s northeast and 4,000 vanished in the northwest.

“I don’t think [ticks] are driving our decline,” said Erika Butler, a wildlife veterinarian for DNR who’s leading the study. “Our animals are in extremely poor body condition . . . but reproduction is high,” indicating that animals are strong enough mate and reproduce.

So what’s happening between that time and when they drop dead? “A lot of folks suggest to us the brain worm parasite,” Butler said. But it could also be mosquito-related viruses or a fungus.

This year, state wildlife officials caught 111 moose and fitted them with collars with gadgets that send text messages when moose keel over and die.

The device has an accelerometer that measures movement. Scientists also opened the mouths of the animals and dropped in a transmitter that goes directly to the stomach and measures body temperature and the heartbeat. As soon as the animal’s vital signs indicate it has died, a text message is sent.

Of the captured moose, 18 have died. Three deaths were caused by ticks, some moose were eaten by predators, and others are still being studied.

“We’re studying every piece of their body [with] field necropsies. Every organ you can name: eyeballs, brain, liver,” Butler said. A “moose fleet” — helicopters, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles — rush to fresh bodies “so we can get the carcasses out whole,” she said.

Minnesota’s winters are colder than New Hampshire’s, where the cause of moose mortalities is certain. In New Hampshire, Rines said, when short winters allowed the tick population to thrive, “we had years where almost none of the calves survived and only 25 percent of adults.”

New Hampshire recently launched a $695,000 study of its moose population. In 2001, the state first saw problems that led to the first remarkable die-off. “Since then, it’s been an uphill battle against them,” Rines said of the ticks. “Our winters have gotten unfortunately more reliably short.”

At 400 pounds, moose calves aren’t lightweights. But “those animals would have to replace their blood volume” while hosting 100,000 ticks in winter when food is scarce, Rines said.