New Hampshire Wildlife News
by Certified Wildlife Biologist, Eric P. Orff

Biologist gives climate change talk in Wakefield

Thursday, April 16, 2009

John Nolan/Times photo Former Fish and Game biologist Eric Orff now works for the National Wildlife Federation.

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WAKEFIELD — Eric Orff, who was a NH Fish and Game biologist for 31 years, and who now works for the National Wildlife Federation, was the guest speaker in Wakefield, recently.

The event, held at the First Congregational Church, and attended by almost three dozen people, was co-sponsored by Moose Mountains Regional Greenways and Acton Wakefield Watersheds Alliance.

Orff, widely known in the state's hunting and fishing circles, gave a visual presentation on the impact of global warming on the state's wildlife, which was followed by a question-and-answer session.

He began with a wry reminder of his credentials.

"I know which end of a bear to handle," he said, and indeed, Orff was the acknowledged Fish and Game expert on Ursus americanus.

He then related how the state's climate has changed from when he first built duck boxes as a teenager back in 1964. He noted the thinner ice on state ponds, over the last 10 years, and noted that in 2006 and 2007 (he retired during that latter year) there had been virtually no ice on open water bodies in the southern part of New Hampshire. On joining Fish and Game, around 1976, he used to check duck boxes by snowmobile, but as the ice thinned, he went on foot.

"Winter disappeared during my career," he said, although acknowledging that in the last two years it has made something of a comeback.

Because ducks now come down from the north to Great Bay later than they have, traditionally, duck hunting season has been extended into mid-January, these days.

"Global warming, to a degree, was good, but now a blanket has become a down quilt. Methane that was trapped in permafrost, is getting released. It is a multiplier. CO2 levels have gone up several times in the past, but never over 300 parts per million. Coal and oil that was sequestered carbon is being released and now the CO2 level is 387 ppm. Where will it send temperatures? We don't know," said Orff.

He said predictions of sea level rise from melting ice caps and glaciers was first estimated to be 10 to 23 inches by the end of this century, but new thinking puts the coming sea rise at three feet by 2100.

Orff said the meteorological impact will be wetter, rainier winters and hotter, drier summers punctuated by more intense storms. Snowmobiling, skiing and ice-fishing, part of the state's $4 billion tourist industry, are being affected.

"There already is an economic impact of some sports dealers," said Orff. "The ice is out on (Lake) Winnipesaukee eight days earlier on average, and the lilacs are blooming four days sooner.

Brook trout are having a tougher time in southern New Hampshire, as they require water temperatures to be below 70 degrees.

"Seventy-five degrees is lethal to them," said Orff. "We need to take some dams out, where the water warms, and plant more trees (to shade the water)."

The coal-fired electricity plant at Bow, operated by PSNH, also won a mention.

"Bow is spewing out 3.7 million tons of CO2 annually," said Orff, noting that the company can now buy credits at around $3 per ton, as an alternative to adding expensive scrubbers.

"Clean coal? There is no such thing right now," said Orff in response to a question. He said Department of Environmental Service officials had found the mercury in lake fish near the coal plant to be "off the charts."

Bow, he said, puts out 125 pounds of mercury each year. A tiny amount of mercury apparently goes a very long way when it comes to contaminating lakes, fish and other creatures further up the food chain.

Coal-fired plants extending out to the Midwest have also contributed to acid rain in New Hampshire. Researchers have found that acid rain leaches out naturally occurring aluminum in the soil, which flows into rivers. This is unlucky for Atlantic salmon parr — not in fresh water — but off the coast in the salt water, where the aluminum reacts with salt water and smothers the gills of the young fish.

It has been no picnic for ducks either.

"Two spring floods (2006 and 2007) have wiped out duck nests and now there are fewer juvenile ducks," said Orff.

Orff, suggesting that Cap and Trade legislation, that will incentivize some companies to pollute less, has been supported by the state's U.S. Congressional Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Paul Hodes.

"John Sununu (former U.S. senator) voted in favor of the last bill, which failed," said Orff, adding that U.S. Senator Judd Gregg was "away south" on this issue and that U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen's position was only "so-so."

Global warming, said Orff, is likely to drive moose northward, as New Hampshire is currently on the southern edge of their range. As temperatures climb, moose suffer increasingly from parasites like ticks.

Addressing public opinion about global warming, Orff said a strong majority of the hunting/angling community are in agreement it is a real phenomenon — 76 percent, as opposed to 21 percent of doubters or disbelievers.

He maintained that CO2 emissions should be capped at 2000 levels, with a tax on polluters.

"I hope the money comes back to wildlife management," he said.

On a positive note, Orff said that New Hampshire has met with success in expanding wildlife populations, with 85,00 deer, 6,000 moose and 40,000 turkeys as living proof. Beaver and wood ducks have also rebounded, and coyotes managed to spread from Colebrook down to Seabrook in just eight years.

Orff, in his Fish and Game career, never managed to document a mountain lion in New Hampshire, and drew a similar blank when checking out two separate alleged sightings of Big Foot.

He thinks it is just a matter of time before a wolf "makes it through the gauntlet" (he was referring to the killing zone in Quebec, south of the St. Lawrence River) and arrives in New Hampshire.

"We have set the table, " he said, referencing the rising stocks of deer and moose.

The audience then discussed various steps that can be taken to reduce CO2 output.

Orff noted that the power station at Newington has been fired on woodchips instead of coal since 2007, which is a benefit to the environment.

He also noted that if a single aluminum can is recycled, the electricity saved is equivalent to someone watching TV for a couple nights.

Several simple small steps were also discussed to reduce each person's carbon output. Some mentioned were: to replace incandescent bulbs with fluorescents, buy appliances that are energy star compliant, increase insulation in homes and refrain from buying bottled water.


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