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Global Warming

NH group to study climate change, wildlife

By Terry Date

Scientists are uncertain what influences climate change may have on New Hampshire wildlife and forests, but that very uncertainty has them planning — and concerned.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department is assembling a group to develop strategies to safeguard wildlife in the face of a changing climate.

An advisory panel is to meet early in the year to establish a scope and vision for the group, which has yet to be named, said John Kanter, a nongame and endangered wildlife coordinator for the department.

Personally, Kanter said he is concerned with the impact climate change could have on habitat and ecosystems for wildlife, and people's ability to enjoy wildlife, including hunting and fishing.

Predicting the effects of things like an increase in the average temperature and rising carbon dioxide levels is very complex, he said. The outcome could be different than what's predicted in models.

Kanter said he is worried about the unknown impacts.

A wildlife action plan created in 2006 by Fish and Game identified 20 species to be concerned about as the climate changes. That includes the common loon, the pine marten and the spruce grouse, said Eric Orff, a Fish and Game wildlife biologist for 31 years.

Orff, who retired from Fish and Game in 2007 and is now a consultant with the National Wildlife Federation, has seen numerous changes in wildlife since growing up in Londonderry, where he spent many hours and days in the Little Cohas Marsh.

Where ice once formed on the marsh, there is now none, he said. The average temperature in the state has risen by two degrees over 30 years.

Other changes include insomniac bears, said Orff, who was New Hampshire's bear biologist for much of his time working for the state.

Twenty years ago, there were no bears congregating around bird feeders in January and February. But during the winter of 2006-2007, there were bears awake and looking for food throughout the winter.

Orff said the state has done a very good job managing wildlife, but he worries about what will happen in the future. These are the best of times and the worst of times, he said. The best because of the increased numbers of moose, bear, deer and turkey. The worst because of changes and possible changes.

The state experienced three 100-year floods in three years — 2005, 2006 and 2007. Those floods reduced duck populations, he said. Rising temperatures also pose a major threat to the state's brook trout population, with projections that half of the fish's range could disappear in the next several decades, he said.

University of New Hampshire forest ecology professor Tom Lee said the projected migration of tree species in the state could be more or less, depending on the increase in carbon emissions and temperatures.

"Predictions about changes in forest is a tricky business," Lee said.

He said he hasn't seen evidence of changes to forests in New Hampshire, but there is some evidence in Vermont of northern hardwood trees moving into the more northern range of spruce and fir trees.

Lee, in particular, worries about warmer temperatures influence on sugar maples, trees that like cold nights and warm days.

Phil Auger, land and water educator for the UNH Cooperative Extension in Rockingham County, said the maple syrup season has been affected by climate change.

Some syrup producers in the state tap trees the first week in February, as much as 30 days earlier than they used to tap, he said.

New Hampshire is on the southern edge of the best range for maple syrup production, Auger said.

"That whole industry could be moving northward," Auger said.

Auger, Lee, Orff and Kanter all said that a majority of scientists, themselves included, maintain the evidence is clear that the climate is changing.

"The average annual temperature has gone up and there will be consequences," Auger said.

It remains to be seen whether the net effect of those consequences will be positive or negative, although most scientists think they will be negative.

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