Global Warming Threatens NH Hunting and Fishing
The last half century NH has witnessed a remarkable restoration of its fish and wildlife resources. For over the last three decades I was fortunate to help play a part of this restoration effort as a wildlife biologist for the NH Fish and Game Department until I retired in June of 2007.
We have fish and wildlife population unimaginable a century ago. Beavers had been trapped out by the mid 1800’s and along with them most other furbearers. Moose were essentially gone as were turkeys and perhaps 25,000 deer remained, and bears were believed to be fewer than 500. Dams and pollution wiped out fish populations in our rivers especially shad, river herring and salmon that needed to reproduce in freshwater after maturing at sea.
There has been a dramatic reversal in fish and wildlife populations all across New Hampshire the last 50 years particularly the last tree decades. For instance when I started at the Fish and Game Department in 1976 there were fewer than 100 turkeys in the state. We now have over 35,000. Moose numbered a few hundred and have grown to nearly 6,000. The bear population was pegged at barely over a thousand and has grown to 5,000. And even deer numbers doubled from a population of about 44,000 to 98,000 by 2007. The Federal Clean Water Act of the 1970’s helped clean up all of our rivers that were once merely open sewers. The clean-up coupled with the construction of fish passage facilities on our coastal rivers such as the Cocheco River in Dover and our two major watersheds the Merrimack and Connecticut Rivers as brought about the return of shad, herring and even some Atlantic salmon.
Global Warming puts much of this restoration effort at risk. Quite simply a warming earth stresses or fish and wildlife populations in many ways. For example Global Warming could threaten our deer herd. Well you might ask “How come deer can live in the south where it is always warm? Deer certainly live where there is no snow or harsh winter conditions. And at first blush you might think Global Warming will be good for our deer. Think again. When we have winter conditions of periods of deep snow or near zero temperatures most of this state’s deer seek shelter under hemlock trees. Sure maybe winters will be shorter under Global Warming, but are predicted to have more extremes as well. There is 210,000 acres of hemlocks in New Hampshire, mostly in central and southern New Hampshire where deer densities are by far the highest. Just so happens just to the south of us there is a nasty little pest called the hemlock woolly aldelgid that is killing off whole forests of hemlock. It is our CURRENT cold winter conditions that seem to be keeping this pest at bay. Warm up our temperature and wipe out our hemlock forests and the deer herd to boot. Moose are constantly threatened by the winter tick. They too seem to be kept in check by a harsh winter. And just a warmer temperature will stress our moose, let alone more diseases.
Our coastal river herring populations already seem to be threatened by the last several years of record warmth in the state. Warmer summer waters in some of our coastal river, like the Taylor in Hampton Falls and the Exeter River in Exeter, has caused a dramatic decline in spawning river herring. Between 1994 and 2000 10,000 to 40,000 river herring returned each spring to spawn in the Taylor. That number dropped to only 7,000 in 2001 and just 147 herring in 2006. Unusually warmer summer river conditions are ALREADY affecting fish populations in New Hampshire.
As a wildlife biologist and more importantly as a New Hampshire hunter and fishermen I am deeply concerned with Global Warming impacts on my hunting and fishing. After all, we know how the stripers like those herring.
And I am not alone. A survey of New Hampshire hunters and fishermen by the National Wildlife Federation in September 2007 shows I have great company in my concerns about Global Warming. For instance the survey found that almost three out of four (73%) hunters and fishermen agree that global warming is currently occurring. Two-thirds of the sportsmen believe humans are causing global warming. The survey also found that a majority (57%) believe the United States is doing too little to address the issue. In fact 65% of the fishermen and 53% of the hunters believe global warming is a threat to their sport. While we see global warming as a future threat to our sports, a third of the hunters and fishermen say that global warming has ALREADY changed wildlife or habitat in their area.
Unfortunately there is no one easy answer to the threat of Global Warming. Much can be done by each of us as conservationists and clearly much more needs to be done, sooner rather than later, on the national front. The National Wildlife Federation is looking to recruit 20 to 30 New Hampshire hunters and fishermen who would volunteer to bring the Global Warming message to their fish and game club, TU chapter, or National Wild Turkey chapter. If you would like to volunteer please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 4, 2007