Guest blog: Wisconsin wildlife stressed by climate change

WI Green Fire, February 7, 2023

Photo credit:
Jeremy Cohen
Photo credit: Jeremy Cohen

The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Initiatives (WICCI) is a nationally recognized collaboration of scientists and stakeholders working together to help foster solutions to climate change in Wisconsin. WICCI formed as a partnership between UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2007. Wisconsin’s Green Fire members serve on WICCI’s Forestry Working Group and Agriculture Working Group.

By Dea Larsen Converse

Wisconsin is world-renowned for its diversity of wildlife. Our outdoor recreation and tourism economy, which is vital to rural communities, depends on access to this diversity of species. To Tribal Nations that live within our state boundaries, wildlife and subsistence hunting and gathering are essential to their spiritual, cultural, and physical well-being. The recently published report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI) shows that warmer winters, less snow, and new pests are stressing iconic Wisconsin species. The last two decades have been the warmest on record in Wisconsin and the past decade has been the wettest.

“Climate impacts are increasing the risk and harm to wildlife already stressed by habitat loss and degradation, pollution, and disruptions from non-native species. Aligning restorations and habitat management to provide food and cover for wildlife can help species adapt to changing climate conditions.” — WICCI Wildlife Working Group

Climate change is leading to earlier springs, milder winters, and delayed falls. Many species are shifting their historic ranges and migration patterns in response to these changes. Not all species are able to adapt, however, leading to a mismatch between habitats and the migratory species that depend on them. Reducing barriers to wildlife movement and creating resilient habitat spaces will be key for wildlife species as they try to adjust to climate change.

Impacts to a few keystone species illustrate how a warming climate is stressing Wisconsin wildlife. Ruffed grouse and snowshoe hares that depend on a snow-covered landscape to survive Wisconsin winters are increasingly at-risk as winters warm and the period of snow cover shortens. Warmer air and water temperatures, along with extreme fluctuations in lake levels, have disrupted loon reproduction by changing the availability of nesting habitat and increasing the risk of black fly outbreaks during the breeding season. Warmer waters, extreme rains, and rapid lake level fluctuations are impacting wild rice beds that are important to Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin and the wildlife species that use them.

But there is hope. The WICCI Wildlife Working Group recommends activities to help wildlife as the climate continues to warm, including adjusting harvest regulations for climate-vulnerable species. There is hope for the future but it’s up to us.

Read more here.

Photo: Warmer weather has disrupted loon reproduction by changing the availability of nesting habitat and increasing the risk of black fly outbreaks during the breeding season. An adult loon (Gavia immer) with chick. Photo credit: Jeremy Cohen

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