By Nina Ignaczak
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Last fall, Nick Green was sitting around the fire at grouse camp when his friend commented on the ticks.
“He’s one of my best friends, and he's a very staunch conservative — always has been. He gets triggered by the word climate change, “ Green told me. But on this evening, Green’s friend wondered why ticks were still alive in northern Michigan in mid-October. He could recall a time 25 years ago when that wasn’t the case, and wondered why the ticks had suddenly decided to “move in” to the area.
“And I told him, no, it's because our winters are mild and it's not killing the ticks like it used to, so we have more ticks,” Green, who works as a public information officer with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said. “And he's like, ‘Oh.’ So we started Google. And he's like, ‘yeah, ticks are surviving the winter.’”
As Green and his friend chatted, they made other connections between warmer temperatures and the outdoors — like how they couldn’t trout fish in their usual spot that year because the waters were too warm.
“So that was that aha moment for him, and it took a half-hour of talking with me to do it,” Green said. “I think it's just gonna take those little moments of us talking about the impacts — the little things with fish and wildlife that hunters and anglers are seeing and experiencing… to help get them to the end game of there's a changing climate, and we need to do something about it.”
Helping Michigan’s hunters and anglers make that connection was the impetus behind a report and film produced by MUCC, the National Wildlife Federation Great Lakes Regional Center, and Michigan Out-of-Doors TV.
The report, Changing Seasons, published in March, details the ongoing changes in wildlife habitat, survival, and outdoor sporting opportunities in Michigan related to climate change. It focuses on the future of white-tailed deer and moose, waterfowl, upland birds, salmon and trout.
According to MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter, the organization wanted to find a way to connect the dots between climate change and the experience of the more than 40,000 hunters and anglers it serves.
One impetus for the report was Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s Council on Climate Solutions, which convened workgroups throughout 2021 to develop recommendations for a MI Healthy Climate Action Plan.
Rather than participate in those workgroups, MUCC opted to stay out of the fray and focus on connecting the dots for its stakeholder group.
“It's not a partisan issue, addressing climate change, and we wanted to ensure that all people who have a stake in the climate change discussion were at the table,” Trotter said. “Hunters and anglers are probably late in talking about climate change, and they are directly seeing the impacts out in the fields, forests, and the waters of Michigan. But maybe they haven't made the connections, necessarily, to the bigger issue of climate change.”
The report combines the perspectives of a Michigan deer habitat consultant, a charter captain, a lifelong waterfowl hunter, and other wildlife experts with Michigan Department of Natural Resources findings to paint a picture of what’s happening now with Michigan's sports fisheries and wildlife. It also details policies that could help make Michigan’s wildlife and natural resources become more resilient as climate change progresses.
A sampling of key findings include:
- Parasites and vector-borne diseases, such as Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), are having more significant impacts on local deer populations.
- Moose cannot adapt to warmer summers and will shrink in population and migrate northward.
- Changes in the distribution and timing of waterfowl migration may result in hunters seeing fewer birds in the coming years.
- Marginal trout streams that are already teetering on the edge of supporting trout species will become less likely to support them.
- Upland bird habitat loss and climate-related diseases like West Nile Virus threaten the sport.
- Unpredictable weather is reducing opportunities for salmon fishing.
According to Trotter, many of the policies recommended in the report are consistent with sound wildlife and habitat management practices that MUCC has long supported. They also align with many of the Michigan Council on Climate Solutions' workgroup recommendations on Natural Working Lands and Forest Products, like wetland and habitat conservation.
“These aren't necessarily new solutions, but we wanted to bring a finer point on ones that we think probably have bipartisan support, and that hunters and anglers should be championing,” Trotter said.
The report also proposes recommendations to site renewable energy developments like solar farms and wind turbines so as to preserve wildlife habitat, fisheries, and recreational access. That position has led MUCC to advocate in the Michigan Legislature for removing the state's distributed generation cap and obstacles to enabling community solar.
“When we say that we want public lands and quality recreation areas to be protected from the development of renewable energy, we have to say then where do we want it, and we found it necessary to engage in those conversations on the distributed generation cap and the community solar bill,” Trotter said. “So those are two that we've supported because we don't want to be caught in a situation where we are not being consistent.”
Trotter said that while MUCC has not received any negative feedback from members on the report, although the companion film it helped produce with the PBS Michigan Out-of-Doors TV show attracted some negative Facebook commentary, including what she called “conspiracy theorists” wanting to know if PBS was forcing the show to talk about climate change. Trotter doesn’t believe MUCC members were among those criticizing the show.
“We consider our organization as hunters and anglers who share the commonality of conservation — but that's maybe not all hunters and anglers,” she said.
Green said it’s essential to keep having this conversation with the hunting and angling community.
“We can kind of start to soften the conversation and talk about anecdotes that these people see and experience firsthand, and then help bring them to the realization of what it is,” he said.
“Because we can embrace some of these policy changes moving forward — no matter what are the emerging threats. We need to have the most resilient and adaptable fish and wildlife and the healthiest populations to sustain our outdoor heritage.”
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