North Dakota, at the center of the North American continent, might emerge as a center for analyzing indicators of climate change. Several studies are underway, and one, a draft wildlife action plan, will add to a growing body of research about the advance and effects of climate change.
The state Game and Fish Department for the first time will include climate change in its wildlife plan, which it will submit for federal approval later this summer. The state plan carries special importance because North Dakota has experienced the highest rise in temperatures in the lower 48 states in the past decade. Measuring impacts on wildlife populations will enhance knowledge about climate change in a state where change appears to be more than weather variability.
A leader of the state study noted that the majority of species of animals and birds depend on good habit in order to thrive. Habitat loss, caused by climate change, farming practices or industrial development – or all three – affects wildlife populations. It makes sense, therefore, to include the climate change factor in the wildlife equation.
For example, North Dakota’s status as one of the most important waterfowl habitats in the nation would be at risk if a warming climate meant drier conditions and thus fewer prairie potholes. Some research suggests climate change will alter precipitation patterns, which could either reduce or expand waterfowl habitat.
A team of biologists at the University of North Dakota wrote the climate change section of the state plan. The report examines climate studies and compiles documented impacts on susceptible wildlife species. This early aspect of study does not include mammals, but rather focuses on aquatic species and birds, including the western meadowlark, the state bird. The potential spread of diseases and insects because of a warmer North Dakota is also part of the document.
It’s good and necessary work. The North Dakota research and report will add to the scientific literature about how climate change and other changes on the landscape are affecting sensitive wildlife habitats and species. If the politics can be kept away from the science, the findings will be valuable, indeed.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.