New Report Paints Rough Future For Northwest Fish, Wildlife

A new report paints a rough go of it for fish, shellfish and wildlife in the Northwest.

Released over the recent long holiday weekend, the federal Fourth National Climate Assessment looks at economic and other impacts that warming and drying could have on our region by the end of this century.

It projects that Washington salmon habitat will be reduced by 22 percent under a scenario that includes continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.

A SCREEN GRAB FROM A USGS VIDEO SHOWS A SOCKEYE SUFFERING FROM LESIONS SWIMMING AROUND DRANO LAKE IN AN ATTEMPT TO ESCAPE THE HOT WATERS OF THE MAINSTEM COLUMBIA RIVER DURING A DEADLY EARLY SUMMER 2015 HEATWAVE. (USGS)

“This habitat loss corresponds to more than $3 billion in economic losses due to reductions in salmon populations and decreases in cold-water angling opportunities,” the report states.

Higher fall and winter flows and less and warmer water in spring and summer will impact Chinook, coho, sockeye, pink and chum salmon spawning, hatchery production and reintroduction efforts.

“Recreational razor clamming on the coast is also expected to decline due to cumulative effects of ocean acidification, harmful algal blooms, higher temperatures, and habitat degradation,” it adds.

A 2016 bloom affecting Washington’s South Coast led to a 25 percent increase in the number of local families in need of food bank help due to the importance of digging dollars, the report states.

It says that deer and elk may actually thrive due to less winterkill and improving habitat because of increased wildfires, but could also be impacted by “increases in disease and disease-carrying insects and pests.”

“If deer and elk populations increase, the pressures they place on plant ecosystems (including riparian systems) may benefit from management beyond traditional harvest levels,” it states.

With droughts and more drying hitting key wetland areas, “Further management of waterfowl habitat is projected to be important to maintain past hunting levels,” the report adds.

At its heart for the region, the assessment states that what we saw in 2015 due to the Blob — very low snowpack, early meltout, high summer temperatures, large wildfires — could be a prelude of what is to come.

“Low summer stream levels and warm waters, which amplified a naturally occurring fish disease, resulted in widespread fish die-offs across the region, including hundreds of thousands of sockeye salmon in the Columbia and Snake River Basins. And for the first time ever, Oregon implemented a statewide daily fishing curtailment beginning in July 2015 to limit added stress on the fish from fishing,” the report reminds readers.

In the ocean, that summer saw “the largest harmful algal bloom recorded” and it hyperlinks to a 2016 paper that lists cool-water species such as subarctic copepods, krill, Dungeness, mussels, salmon and groundfish as Blob losers while tropical copepods, market squid, California rockfish and tuna were winners because of the warm waters.

“This is worrisome because the [2013-15 warm water anomaly] may be a harbinger of things to come. As [sea surface temperatures] continue to rise with increasing global temperatures, many of the same scenarios observed during the WWA may be repeated, with dramatic ecological and economic consequences,” that paper in Oceanography states.

Required by Congress to be produced at regular intervals, this fourth climate assessment was worked on by 13 federal agencies with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the lead.

As for what to do to head off the changes, the report states:

“Communities, governments, and businesses are working to reduce risks from and costs associated with climate change by taking action to lower greenhouse gas emissions and implement adaptation strategies. While mitigation and adaptation efforts have expanded substantially in the last four years, they do not yet approach the scale considered necessary to avoid substantial damages to the economy, environment, and human health over the coming decades.”

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