By Thaddeus Rumple
An article in the December 15, 2016 issue of Green Energy Times, “Climate Change Has Impacts on Hunting Heritage in the Northeast,” seems to have created a fair amount of interest, based on reader responses. We were contacted by a number of people, some of whom had direct experience with the subject, and others passed on information that appeared in other publications.
The first response came from Nate Harvey of Marlboro, Vermont. He typically spends two or three days each week tracking animals, mostly in the Northeast. “The beds where moose sleep in the snow are often a bloody mess,” he said, “with ticks the size of your finger tip covering the ground.”
The problem the moose have is that they never had to deal with large numbers of ticks in their evolutionary past, so they have no instinct to groom themselves. White tailed deer have this instinct, which is why they do not share the problem that moose have. Ticks have come into the countryside where moose live, because climate change has made it possible for them to survive the coldest winter temperatures.
To understand how a small change in the average temperature could cause such trouble, we need to know that climate change does not happen uniformly. In the Northeast, the average temperature has increased only about 2° F. While that may not seem like much, the temperature increase has been greatest on the coldest nights of the winter, which are now about 10° F higher than they were only thirty years ago. That difference is enough to allow winter ticks, deer ticks, woolly adelgids, and a host of other pests to survive much farther north than they did in the past. So moose are killed by ticks, humans in Vermont and New Hampshire get Lyme disease, and stands of hemlocks are dying in Massachusetts.
One reader, an avid hunter, suggested we look at a broader geographic area. He said he had hunted many times in the area of the George River, in Northeastern Quebec. He recounted the sight of seeing a herd of six or seven thousand caribou swimming across the George River. That must have been quite a sight.
There were over 800,000 caribou living in the area of the George River twenty years ago, but the number has fallen to below 9,000 this year. There are many reasons for the decline, and while illegal hunting is clearly one of them, climate change is another part of the problem.
Loss of habitat is a big part of the problem. The hunter talked about commercial forests, describing the destruction brought about by an operation in New Brunswick. In that case, a large area was clear cut. This was followed by covering the land with an herbicide to prevent deciduous trees from growing back, so the forest would be uniformly filled with the fir trees the foresters wanted. With only a single type of tree, the forest had no diversity of resources for wildlife, so there are nearly none.
If we cannot do better, then we are in much worse trouble than we thought.