Maine’s hunting and fishing heritage threatened by climate change

coyote (DIFW photo)If you care about Maine fisheries and wildlife, as a hunter, angler, or wildlife watcher – and yes, this should include every Mainer – you must read and respond to an alarming report from the National Wildlife Federation called Game Changers – Climate Impacts to American’s Hunting, Fishing, and Wildlife Heritage. I’ll give you some information from the report here, but you really should read the entire report which includes information from Nick Bennett, an avid duck hunter who works for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, and from Bill Mook of Mook Sea Farms in Walpole, Maine. You can read the entire report here.

Here’s what the report is all about, from the introduction: Today, hunters and anglers are on the front lines of climate change. Climate change poses an immediate and specific threat to hunting and fishing in America, challenging the traditions and values of outdoor recreationalists, their respect for the land, and the legacy they leave to future generations. Many sportsmen and women are already seeing its effects on their hunting and fishing opportunities, and are very concerned about what climate change means to the future of these traditional outdoor activities. Fish are disappearing from some lakes and streams. Big game populations are being pushed out of their historic ranges. Ducks and other game birds are losing habitat right in front of our eyes. How we address the challenges of global climate change now will dictate outdoor opportunities for future generations.


The report includes information about many of our favorite critters, from snowshoe hares to deer and moose. Here’s the section on moose:

Massive and unforgettable, moose are a favorite for hunters and wildlife watchers. Moose are superbly adapted for deep snow and cold climates, enduring extremely cold winter weather in their northern habitats. But their adaptation to cold weather is also a liability. Moose are in jeopardy across the lower 48 states—from New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine; to Michigan, Minnesota, Wyoming, and Montana. Not surprisingly, as the climate has warmed, moose are already feeling the heat in southern portions of their range, reducing their populations and loss of viewing and hunting opportunities. When it comes to rising temperatures, heat affects moose directly. Heat stress leads to dropping weights, a fall in pregnancy rates, and increased vulnerability to predators and disease.

A warming climate also affects prime moose habitat, as aspen and birch retreat northward. Increased winter tick infestations, due to higher temperatures and shorter winters that enhance winter tick survival, are the other major threat to moose from climate change. Severe infestations can cause high moose mortality, particularly in calves. Heavily infected moose may starve to death because they eat less when irritated by ticks, lose body heat due to hair loss, become vulnerable to infection, and suffer extensive blood loss to the ticks.

The New Hampshire moose population has plummeted by more than 40% in the last decade from over 7,500 moose to about 4,000 today. In the winter of 2014-15, 74% of radio-collared moose calves died from tick overloads in New Hampshire. As the moose population has dropped, the recreational activities and associated revenue surrounding the species has followed. In New Hampshire, the moose hunting season has been cut back, and permits have been reduced nearly 85% since 2007.

In 2014, moose hunting permits in Maine were slashed by 25% because of the explosion in the winter tick population. Permits were cut another 10% in 2015. Similarly, in Montana, moose hunting licenses have been cut by more than 50% since 1995. In Minnesota, moose populations are down 60% from 2006 levels, and moose hunting was discontinued in the state in 2013 due to the rapid population decline . As populations drop in the warmer southern portions of the moose’s range and the climate continues to warm, the future of moose hunting in the lower-48 states areas appears bleak.


Here’s what Nick Bennett had to say about ducks and duck hunting.

Duck hunting has a rhythm in Maine. When the season starts in October, local dabbling ducks are plentiful. These birds flee south quickly due to cooler weather and hunting pressure. As the weather cools, new birds arrive from the North and make for more interesting hunting (because birds that are new to an area are less educated about where hunters might be). Then the smaller waterbodies freeze up in November, and birds move to larger waterbodies. By December, the large lakes and rivers start to freeze and coastal hunting becomes excellent. Diving ducks—whistlers and buffleheads—come down from the boreal forest in large numbers and appear in Casco Bay. But in too many recent winters, this great, rhythmic movement of ducks just never quite materialized during the season because of the warmth. When it’s too warm, new ducks don’t come in from the North. If the rivers and lakes don’t freeze, hunting on Casco Bay never gets good. I look forward to duck season all year. I know a crummy duck season isn’t the worst consequence of global warming, but it sure puts a damper on my fall.

Snowshoe Hare

I didn’t realize that snowshoe hares would be impacted in this way, but it makes sense. As the report notes: In warm months, their coat is a rusty brown color, allowing them to blend in with the undergrowth and soil in their forest and swamp habitats. When the days get shorter, snowshoe hares molt to white fur. The problem for hares in recent years is that snow is coming later and melting sooner, but molting is triggered by the length of day, rather than temperature or presence of snow, leaving them “mismatched” with the habitat around them. With their white coats against a dark background, they are glaringly exposed to lynx, coyotes, foxes, eagles, owls, and other predators.

Take Action

The NWF Game Changers report suggests six ways we can act now to reduce the dangers of climate change:

  • Use the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from our largest source – power plants. (This is especially important so I’ll tell you a bit more about it at the end of this column.)
  • Significantly expand large-scale conservation funding investments for wildlife at the national level.
  • Support strong action on methane pollution by the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Reduce fossil fuel use and reject expansion of dirty fuels.
  • Invest in clean wildlife-friendly energy and improve energy efficiency.
  • Safeguard wildlife and wildlife habitat from climate change.

You can play an important role in all of this. I suggest that you read the entire Game Changers report, and then step up to the plate now. It’s your turn at bat!


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken an historic step forward by putting in place Clean Power Plan standards which establish first-ever limits on carbon pollution from our country’s largest source—power plants. These new standards are a core component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and a critical next step in reducing our country’s carbon pollution. The Clean Air Act gives the EPA the authority to regulate air pollutants in order to protect public health and welfare. With the Clean Power Plan, sensible limits will be put on carbon pollution (the key driver of climate change) from power plants, just like limits exist on soot, sulfur dioxide, mercury, nitrogen oxides, and other harmful pollutants. These carbon pollution limits will help sustain our outdoor heritage, conserve wildlife habitat, protect our clean air and water, and create thousands of clean energy jobs. We must support the EPA by defending these rules and working with states to ensure the rules are effectively implemented.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.