By DEBORAH COURSON SMITH - Big Sky Connection
HELENA – Wild critters large and small in Montana are featured in a report released this week by the National Wildlife Federation. The research examines how species such as grizzly bears, sage grouse and butterflies are being impacted by a changing climate.
Report author Amanda Staudt, a senior scientist at the federation, says many animals have shifted their ranges – mostly north, as springs arrive sooner.
“We are seeing and feeling the effects of climate change in our own backyards – on our farms, in our forests – right now,” Staudt says. “And for wildlife, it’s about the impacts that we’re seeing now, not something far away.”
She says animals and insects move to food sources, so if plants flower sooner they’ll follow that change. Staudt points out that most critters have the ability to adapt, but they’re often hindered by fences, roads or other development.
The report features the whitebark pine beetle problems. Staudt says outbreaks have intensified because of milder winter temperatures – and the trees don’t suffer in isolation.
“What happens when you have these kinds of infestations is that you have ripple-down effects on other species within that ecosystem,” Staudt says. “One example that we highlight in the report is grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park.”
She says the grizzlies have fewer cubs when the whitebark pine nut supply is low, and there are more conflicts with humans as the bears seek out new food sources.
The report recommends solutions, including policies to reduce climate-change pollution and a focus on making sure wildlife has pathways to new habitats.
The report, “Wildlife in a Warming World,” is online at nwf.org/climatecrisis.