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February 23, 2010

The Struggle for Survival in a Changing World

Guest entry by: Branden Grubb, Global Warming & Energy Intern

Our country is home to a vast array of animal species that depend on healthy habitats for survival. Global warming has a detrimental affect on the world’s fish and wildlife, and climate change greatly impacts these wildlife habitats. For instance, salmon and trout depend on cold water for survival, and because of climate change, rising water temperatures are limiting their options for feeding and breeding grounds. In an article I read entitled “fish out of water,” I found that a 3 degree Fahrenheit rise in average August temperatures would cause up to 20 percent of streams in the Columbia River Basin of Washington and Oregon to become too warm for most salmon and trout to inhabit. As a result, many animals such as bears, that depend on these fish as a stable food source are limited to only certain areas, causing competition for food and ultimately for survival.

Polar bears are aquatic mammals that make their living on arctic ice. Melting arctic ice is an effect of Global Warming that is greatly impacting polar bears and their access to feeding grounds. Global warming is a serious threat to polar bear habitat because of an increasing climate change. Their habitat is changing too rapidly for them to keep up. As arctic ice slowly melts, the U.S. Geological Survey projects that two thirds of polar bear population will disappear by 2050, and polar bears could become extinct in the United States. This is a substantial amount considering the polar bear is already an endangered species.

Global warming doesn’t only affect polar bears and the arctic. It also impacts migratory birds and waterfowl. Want to know a shocking fact? Birds are moving their homes farther north, meaning that the birds you see in your back yards or at your feeders will likely not be there much longer. Global warming is slowly drying up many migratory birds and water fowl's homes from southern wetlands to the prairie potholes of the Midwest. They are forced to move to wetter, cooler climates in order to find refuge in areas that are plentiful of food sources and shelter. It is possible that within years, state birds will no longer inhabit the states where they are seen as precious.

Longer droughts and heavier flooding are also a consequence of global warming. What effect does this have on wildlife though? Flooding increases erosion levels, reduces water quality, and destructs aquatic habitats. Poor water quality makes it harder for fish to find food and shelter. On the other hand, severe droughts stress and kill plants on which wildlife depend on for food and shelter. It also deprives wildlife of fresh water sources. So basically it is a no win situation. The eastern hemlock, which provides home to more than 120 species, and is found from the southern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the upper parts of Maine, is directly affected by global warming. They are continuously being threatened by the hemlock wooly adelgid (HWA). The HWA is an insect that feeds on the sap from pines. Regrettably, HWA can kill a hemlock in as few as three to six years. Harsh winters and freezing conditions kill many HWA, but as global warming increases climate temperatures, HWA's chance for survival also increases.

Animals around the world are in a constant struggle for survival. From Saharan Africa to the Everglades and even to the Arctic, climate change is increasing their struggle. The nutrients they depend on for survival are being ripped away from them as the world’s climate changes due to lack of responsibility on our part. Animals and habitat will need to adapt in order to survive in our changing world, and we need to do our part to assist them. It appears that global warming is the key contributor to habitat displacement, and proof that we need to respond to climate change in a way that promotes ecological resistance. It is time we took a step toward limiting our use of harmful substances that are causing global warming. Maintaining and restoring our natural forest and wetland system would combat the effects of global warming. Healthy forests and wetlands not only provide important fish and wildlife habitat, they also provide efficient water storage, absorb flood waters, and are critical for water purification. For more information visit http://www.sierraclub.org/habitat/


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