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Climate change presentation focuses on habitat

Posted: Saturday, Nov 17th, 2012

Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Climate Change Initiative manger Bill Geer talks with Valley residents on Thursday night about climate change.

Courier staff writer

ALAMOSA — Bill Geer believes the relationship between man and wild is suffering, but he is not without hope to change the impending future.

On Thursday, Geer, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership Climate Change Initiative manger, accepted an invitation from multiple area ecological interest groups to present Beyond Season’s End in Colorado: Climate Change, The Effects on Wildlife and Fisheries at Adams State University.

“Hunting and fishing is a dividend we get when we take care of the land,” Geer said about protecting the sportsman habitat. “We have no public appeal to support the politicians needed.”

Although the presentation did not pertain directly to the Valley, it highlighted areas in Colorado, Montana and the west that are facing similar climate related environmental change, according to Geer. He explored the effects of temperature and weather patterns on wildfowl, fish, big game and upland game birds, and explained that if legislation doesn’t address climate change soon, more than the climate would change.

“We need money and initiative to help keep natural resources intact under changing environmental conditions,” Geer said.

Colorado’s high pine beetle numbers and natural water resources are evidence that climate change is fact, according to Geer. Higher, unseasonable temperatures are enabling the beetles to attack struggling forests. Between 1951 and 2006, the state saw a 1.1 degree Fahrenheit increase, which is also contributing to air pollution, drought and habitat loss. Prior to the mid-90s, the beetle existed without being a threat because classic winters with below freezing temperatures once kept the devastating insect in relative ecological balance. In 2011, Colorado marked 3.3 million acres lost to infestation.

Additionally, infestation in pine and spruce trees at higher elevations is influencing where the elk and deer roam like a one-two punch, according to Geer. The canopy loss above 6,000 feet is disappearing due to dying trees, which allows sun to pass and enable grasses, forbs and shrubs to grow. The vegetation is a favorite among game, and the state’s 283,000 elk population might find they like the increased habitat, stay in the location and procreate without efficient culling, which relates to the present trend of declining hunter harvests. The canopy loss, however, would also make herds more vulnerable to natural predators.

In the sportsman’s interest, the migratory shift could mean finding new locations to hunt, according to Geer. For the land manager, it could mean one more dilemma.

“We know that we can do this better,” Geer said.

Colorado is not without want for water, but according to the data, water accumulation has increased between 1951 and 2002. The state has seen increases of 15.07 percent versus the nation’s 10.5 percent, and it has seen an increase of 1.16 percent in snowfall, but a significant decrease in overall snow pack since the 1980s that is unable to sustain streams.

The declining number of native trout in Colorado’ s streams is expected to further decrease by nearly 50 percent over the next 68 years, another link to natural water resources and climate change is the culprit, according to Geer. Only 10 to 30 percent of the native fish live in their historic ranges, and their lack of existence is connected to the integration of non-native species, fishing practices, reduced water available and altered temperatures.

“We don’t know everything, but we know enough to act,” Geer said, urging the presentation attendees to contact their representatives and volunteer to commit to mitigating climate change. “Recognize it is real. It is beyond rational debate.”

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