Adapting to change
I asked a fellow NWTF stafffer what I should write about in this issue of Turkey Country, and he suggested climate change ... I laughed and said, “I don’t think so.” Some changes are good, others we dread and some are difficult to accept. Overall, change disrupts our routine and comes harder for some than others. However, the constant of change is reality, even changes in the outdoor habitat we love. Upon further reflection, I decided maybe I should tackle this issue and share a few of my thoughts.
First, there are those who argue for and against human-induced climate change, and I’ll leave that debate for others. What I will argue for is the need for us to adapt and make our landscapes more resilient to change. Climate change, whatever the cause, is a reality. Our cities are heat sinks that store heat in the thermal mass, making them difficult to cool. Our coastlines are becoming hardscape, with the marshes, bayous and reefs that once protected us from hurricanes no longer there. Our deserts are green with golf courses and agriculture, using precious water for irrigation. And, our forests are aging and showing signs of disease.
So how do we slow the progression and, where possible, reverse these trends?
Over the course of my career, I have seen many changes in habitats and wildlife distribution. In my home state of Michigan, winters were traditionally harsh in the northern Upper Peninsula and few, if any, white-tailed deer survived in the Lake Superior watershed. This area seemed perfect for moose restoration. However, Mother Nature proved us wrong and provided several decades of relatively mild winters. As a result, deer numbers grew. Deer host brain worm and, while not fatal to them, moose are susceptible to the parasite, and restored moose populations struggled to survive.
Likewise, the snowshoe hare of the Lower Peninsula was once plentiful in cedar swamps, and lynx, which prey on the hare, were common. Today, we usually find both much farther north. In addition, wild turkeys now thrive well beyond their historic ranges of the past century.
As most duck hunters can tell you, bird migration patterns are changing, with fall migrations coming later and “short stopping” becoming more common. We have also seen more photos of polar bears struggling to hunt their diet of seals due to reduced pack ice. Similar shifts are occurring in vegetation across our landscapes as southern plants are surviving farther north and at higher elevations.
We will not stop change, but we can use our knowledge of natural systems to make our cities cooler, our shores greener and our forests younger and more efficient. Despite our tremendous advancements over the last century — even putting a man on the moon — we cannot improve upon the benefits found in nature.
Forests are carbon sinks. They cool the earth, clean the air and shade our homes. Likewise, marshes and peat bogs tie up enormous amounts of carbon, and they help us clean our water and act as living sponges during periods of flooding. Prairies, with their deep root systems, can hold soil and provide forage even with little rain, and the native plants of our deserts can remain dormant during extended dry conditions and then flourish with periods of rain. By managing our forests and creating younger forests, conserving and restoring wetlands, and, where possible, reestablishing native prairie landscapes, we can make a tremendous impact on carbon and mitigate the effects of a changing climate.
This will take changes on our part. As Americans, while we love our country, all too often we try to recreate and maintain landscapes from other areas and other eras. We must work to manage our forests to their fullest potential. We must be willing to have resilient, drought-tolerant landscapes, rather than water intensive lawns, and we must restore natural marshes, rather than clear shorelines of vegetation. It is time we learn to love, conserve and flourish in our native landscapes.
Changes can be good, and I believe those who enjoy and appreciate an outdoor lifestyle will lead the way in accepting and adapting to these changes. May your fall be a relief from the summer heat, and cool evenings serve as a time to reflect on what you can do to embrace and affect positive change.
— Becky Humphries, NWTF CEO