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Chesapeake Bay's Habitats Threatened By Global Warming

Date:
October 1, 2007
Source:
National Wildlife Federation
Summary:
A new report on the impact of global warming on the Chesapeake Bay (near Washington D.C., USA) calls for a major shift in how land is managed in the bay to protect the nation's most prized hunting and fishing grounds.

While canvasback populations for the past 50 years have been stable, the number of wintering canvasbacks in the Chesapeake Bay has declined from a high of nearly a quarter million birds in the mid-20th century to an average of just over 30,000 birds in the last five years. This trend is due to due to a loss of submerged aquatic vegetation and some birds not migrating as far south to find winter habitat.
Credit: Image courtesy of National Wildlife Federation

A new report on the impact of global warming on the Chesapeake Bay calls for a major shift in how land is managed in the bay to protect the nation’s most prized hunting and fishing grounds.

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“We’ve spent years working to save the bay, but unless we address global warming, it could all be lost,” said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “There is no single silver bullet that will save the bay from the effects of global warming. We need action at all levels of government.”

The report, released by the National Wildlife Federation, comes as attention on global warming reaches new heights. The United Nations and the Bush administration are both holding summits on climate change at this time. The U.N. meeting, in New York September 24 was attended by 150 nations. The Bush administration meeting with large emitters is scheduled for September 27 and 28 in Washington, D.C. On September 26, a key Senate committee hears testimony on how global warming is likely to impact the Chesapeake Bay, one of America’s most treasured watersheds.

“On a week when global warming is getting the attention of world leaders convening in the U.S. to discuss the problem, they need look no further than the Chesapeake Bay in the back yard of the nation’s capital to understand the urgency of confronting global warming,” Schweiger continued.

The report, “The Chesapeake Bay and Global Warming: A Paradise Lost for Hunters, Anglers, and Outdoor Enthusiasts?” offers a seven-step plan of action involving local, state and federal solutions aimed at protecting this valuable economic and recreational treasure. Updated land management strategies combined with reductions in global warming pollution and new, much-needed funding for conservation are critical for the future of fish and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay region, according to the report.

In 2001, close to 100,000 people hunted waterfowl in Maryland and Virginia combined, contributing $25.5 million to the regional economy. Residents and visitors to Maryland and Virginia spent more than $700 million on saltwater recreational fishing in 2004.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Schweiger. “The Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, weakened from many different stressors, is as stable as a house of cards. We’ve spent years working to restore the bay, but unless we address global warming, it could all be lost.”

Many local communities, environmental organizations and state agencies have worked tirelessly for years to save the bay, and the ecosystem has made progress toward recovery. But that hard work is threatened by the impacts of global warming.

“Maryland and Virginia have an opportunity to change the forecast for wildlife and people in the Chesapeake Bay by spearheading state-based efforts to fight global warming,” Schweiger said. “But local efforts must be backed up by federal action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent per year, adding up to about 80 percent by 2050, if we hope to avert the worst consequences of global warming.”

According to the report:

  • Rapidly rising sea levels will inundate coastal marshes and other important habitats and make coastal property more vulnerable.
  • Warmer air and water in the region will change the composition of the bay ecosystem, contribute to worsening dead zones and harmful algal blooms, and encourage the spread of marine diseases and invasive species such as nutria.
  • More-extreme weather events, including floods, droughts, storms, and heat waves will exacerbate polluted runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, alter water quality, and make the outdoor experience increasingly unbearable for people.
  • Changing climate across North America will affect breeding grounds and migration patterns for waterfowl, such that fewer birds make their way to the Chesapeake Bay each year.

Ultimately, these impacts threaten the long-term survival of many native species of fish and wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay.

For waterfowl, global warming poses a triple threat in the region. First, the breeding grounds for many of the bay’s wintering ducks, the Prairie Pothole region in the upper Great Plains, is expected to become much drier and produce fewer ducks. Second, some migrating waterfowl are already stopping farther north and west in ice-free areas as winters become warmer. Finally, waterfowl that do migrate all the way to the Chesapeake Bay would likely find an outright loss of shallow water wintering habitat as bay water levels rise.

“Many of the traditions people cherish most about the bay are in jeopardy,” said Patty Glick, senior climate specialist for the National Wildlife Federation and chief author of the report. “For anglers, increasing temperatures could mean fewer rockfish, Atlantic sturgeon, soft-shelled clams and winter flounder. For waterfowl enthusiasts, less bountiful hunting seasons can be expected as waterfowl fly south later or stop short of their usual wintering grounds.”

According to the report, wildlife and fish in the Chesapeake Bay will better be able to survive global warming if policies are enacted to discourage extensive coastal development; factor sea-level rise and other global warming impacts into land conservation and habitat restoration efforts; improve stormwater management practices; and adapt waterfowl and fish management practices to account for trends in species distribution and population caused by global warming.

To address these multiple threats, NWF’s new report calls on state and federal elected officials to enact policies that reduce global warming emissions by 2 percent per year for the next 40 years, and to provide adequate funding for wildlife agencies charged with protecting natural resources in the Chesapeake Bay.

“The warning bell has sounded, the threat has been identified, and the solutions have been presented,” said Schweiger. “Today the Chesapeake Bay is a sportsman’s paradise. Whether or not it will remain so for our children and grandchildren will depend on how well we are able to confront the challenge set before us.”

The full report is available at the National Wildlife Federation website.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by National Wildlife Federation. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

National Wildlife Federation. "Chesapeake Bay's Habitats Threatened By Global Warming." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 October 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070928212012.htm>.
National Wildlife Federation. (2007, October 1). Chesapeake Bay's Habitats Threatened By Global Warming. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070928212012.htm
National Wildlife Federation. "Chesapeake Bay's Habitats Threatened By Global Warming." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070928212012.htm (accessed October 31, 2014).

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