The nation could lose its "duck factory" by 2080 if nothing is done to slow global warming, researchers say.
The "Waterfowler's Guide to Global Warming" reports that global warming could cause much of the prime wetlands in the nation's prairie pothole region to dry up.
"This report is a wake-up call," says Barb Prindle, president of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, a co-sponsor of the report. "Global warming is threatening the millions of ducks, geese and cranes that depend on the health of the Prairie Potholes as a breeding ground. We need our elected officials to act to curb global warming and protect vital waterfowl habitat like we have in Minnesota, so that we can pass onto our children a conservation legacy rich in hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities."
In northern breeding habitats, where global warming has gained a strong foothold, ducks and geese are responding by breeding earlier and expanding their ranges farther north, the report states.
The report, the first comprehensive look at how global warming's multiple effects threaten North American waterfowl, was issued jointly by the National Wildlife Federation and 27 of its affiliated state conservation organizations. It highlights the latest scientific research of how changes in climate already are affecting waterfowl and how changes in the coming decades will likely affect breeding, migration and population of ducks, geese and other waterfowl.
"We're looking at a possible trifecta of pressures all convening within a few decades, including major loss of prime breeding grounds, a reduction of coastal winter habitat and disruptions in migration," says Marc Smith of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes Natural Resource Center.
The report looks at how projected global warming could affect waterfowl in each of the four North American flyways: Atlantic, Mississippi, Central and Pacific.
One of the most startling findings is in research by top waterfowl experts in North America suggesting that global warming could reduce wetland habitat in the prairie pothole region by up to 91 percent by 2080. This could result in a decline in duck breeding pairs of anywhere from 9 to 69 percent, the research shows. Species at particular risk include mallards, gadwall, blue-winged teal, northern pintails, canvasbacks, redheads and ruddy ducks.
"As the climate warms and evaporation and plant transpiration increase, many of these ponds are likely to dry up or be wet for shorter periods, making them less suitable habitat for breeding pairs and duck broods," says Patty Glick, global warming specialist for the National Wildlife Federation and the report's author.
The prairie pothole region is called "North America's Duck Factory" because it produces millions of ducks and geese annually, thanks to millions of shallow depressions and ponds that fill with water in spring.
Waterfowl also face the loss of up to 45 percent of the coastal wetlands they depend on in winter due to a possible 3- to 34-inch rise in average sea level by 2100, the report states. Especially vulnerable are the shallow wetlands of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. These regions provide important wintering habitat for diving ducks such as canvasbacks, redheads, ruddy ducks and scaup.
Warmer fall and winter temperatures in northern regions may reduce seasonal ice cover, making it unnecessary for ducks and geese to fly as far south to find ice-free water and adequate food.
The report highlights the multiple challenges waterfowl throughout North America will likely face if global warming continues unabated. Among them, changes in inland precipitation patterns and a significant decline in average mountain snowpack are expected to affect the quality and quantity of water in many coastal marshes and estuaries along the Pacific Coast. Thawing permafrost and changes in the vegetation of boreal forests and tundra regions of Alaska and Canada also could affect important breeding habitat for a number of North America's waterfowl species.
"Even where changes associated with global warming alone might not cause problems, the combined effects from human activities such as oil and gas development, forestry, mining and global warming make it difficult for some waterfowl to adapt to a rapidly changing environment," Glick said. "Waterfowl face an up-hill battle."
Climatalogists point to carbon pollution as the primary culprit behind global warming. In the last 100 years, global temperature rose by an average of 1 degree Fahrenheit, but in places such as Alaska, the change has been more dramatic. The average temperature in Alaska has risen by 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century, and is beginning to cause problems associated with softening permafrost and erosion along the state's coastline.
Temperatures globally are projected to rise on average by between 2-10 degrees Fahrenheit in the coming decades, primarily because of carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels that is trapping heat from being released in the atmosphere. A 1-degree Fahrenheit rate of change in temperature in 100 years is faster than any time in recorded history.
The report includes a plan of action to reduce global warming pollution and help waterfowl and other wildlife adapt to the changes already occurring. Among the recommendations:
* Uphold the Clean Water Act and Farm Bill wetlands protections and expand other programs that encourage protection and restoration of wetlands;
* Develop wetland and waterfowl conservation strategies that account for the potential effects of global warming and reform flood plain and coastal management practices; and
* Enact policies that limit the nation's global warming pollution, protect and enhance forests, grasslands, wetlands and other natural systems that absorb and store carbon; promote energy efficiency and accelerate deployment of renewable energy technologies.
The full report and executive summary can be found at www.nwf.org/news.
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