Global Warming and the Northeast

Northeast Outdoors Experience Staff

 

Global warming is here to stay and it seems like all we hear about lately is damage control rather than solutions to the problem. The usual focus tends to be where the weather is colder such as the far north where the polar bears are being forced further south or the caribou having to change migratory patterns to find food. But the Northeast is not without its warming trends as well. There are many examples of how global warming is impacting wildlife such as the increasing numbers of winter ticks that are killing moose and more ticks carrying Lyme disease that potentially can kill human beings being found across the northern tier of states. These are the two instances within the ecosystem that seem to get the most attention lately, but they aren’t the only ones by any means.

New Jersey has fallen victim to another result of global warming with an infestation of the southern pine beetle attacking the state’s famous Pine Barrens region and is killing pitch pines by the thousands. State forestry personnel are currently aggressively cutting down large numbers of the conifers to try and stem the spread of this tiny beetle that can overwhelm large tracts of forest by their sheer numbers. New Jersey’s average winter temperature has only increased by 2.3 degrees over the last 100 years, but that is enough to let this beetle extend its range northward into the Garden State. It takes at least a night or two of -8 degrees F to kill this beetle that is about the size of a grain of rice causing all of the damage. The worry is that as temperatures moderate even more further north, the possibility the beetle might very well spread to Long Island, NY and eventually Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The last year of an -8 degree F night in New Jersey was in 1996.

dying pines

It is easy to see the affected areas of pitch pine in this picture as trees that are supposed to be “evergreen” look anything but. These trees are dying from the southern pine beetle and will have to be cut down to prevent a massive infestation spreading to neighboring trees. In the past, fires would have helped to control the beetle naturally, but fire suppression has been a top priority to protect life and property in the area.

Global Warming Influences in the Northeast

  • Winter storm tracks are shifting northward increasing the occurrences of heavy snowfalls from the Dakotas eastward along the northern tier states
  • The northeast has experienced a 4 degree F increase in average temperature since the 1970’s
  • Spring weather now appears between 10 and 14 days sooner than it did only 20 years ago. This and the average temperature directly relate to the winter tick problem with the moose among other things
  • It is predicted that Northeast ski areas will lose between 25 and 45% of their ski season to global warming by the year 2070
  • Average lake ice depths in Northeastern states is decreasing making winter activities like ice fishing and snowmobile use more dangerous
  • The spread of invasive species is also blamed to some degree on global warming as the milder temperatures encourage their proliferation where once the extreme cold kept them at bay.

Snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has decreased since 1978 between 3 and 9%, most notably in the spring. But at the same time, the reduced ice on the Great Lakes has increased the amount of moisture available for the warmer air to hold producing events such as in 2007 when parts of New York received over 10 feet of lake-effect snow in 10 days. The reduced ice is blamed not only for increasing lake effect snows, but is also breaking up earlier due to global warming. Recently in 2009, 130 ice fishermen were stranded on an ice floe while fishing Lake Erie and had to be rescued. The safety of citizens both on the road and off is becoming more of an issue every year.

ice flooding

Unexpected flooding is another issue blamed on global warming. As spring approaches, precipitation that would normally fall as snow and ice because of warmer temperatures can lead to rain events instead. This upsetting of the environment can cause massive ice dams to back-up natural drainages and cause severe cases of flooding.

The National Wildlife Federation has developed a Global Warming Program for the Northeast to reduce the threat that global warming poses for the environment and the wildlife and people that depend on it for their survival. As sportsmen tend to be more active outdoors, the effects and changes in the environment are readily evident to how it affects their recreation. Educating the general public for whom the natural warnings that exist all around us might almost seem hearsay, is a daunting task indeed. When it’s a polar bear thousands of miles away, it can be hard to make people sit up and take notice. But when it hits close to home with facts that cannot be disputed, it is hard to just look the other way. We live in a changing world and for the most part, are responsible for those changes. The Northeast depends on winter for recreational dollars, winter jobs as well as the health and safety of our wildlife and environment.

Global warming in the Northeast is everyone’s concern just as is the polar bear above the Arctic Circle. There is no magic fix or legislation that is going to solve the problem for us. As responsible citizens, each person plays a crucial part in the world’s recovery. Residents of New York, Maine and Vermont already have in place National Wildlife Federation affiliates working to help deal with the changing environment. If we’re not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

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