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It's cold outside but getting warmer every year

January 24, 2009
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

While North Country residents recently bundled up against winter's wrath as the mercury sank to 26 degrees below zero, the National Climatic Data Center announced 2008 had tied with 2001 as the eighth warmest year in recorded history.

With the announcement came news that the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997. Does anyone see a trend here?

For the majority of the past decade, deer hunters have enjoyed T-shirt weather through most of the early big-game season. Rarely are woolies needed until after the rut. During the same timeframe, hunters have complained about the lack of tracking snow. Indeed, the forest floor has been brown more often than white in recent years. It's difficult to be sneaky crunching across a carpet of leaves underfoot.

And while brook trout anglers rejoice over an early ice-out that allows fishing in open ponds in April, they have similarly bemoaned midsummer water temperatures that have depleted oxygen and reduced water flow to dangerously low levels.

Skiers appreciate the relatively abundant snowfalls, yet complain about the frequency of thaws. Whitewater rafters also enjoy the dense snowpack, but shudder as the Hudson diminishes to a trickle in the summer.

Other disturbing factors attributed to climate change include fewer freezing evening temperatures during the late winter. While it may seem like a minor item, it's crucial to those that work the sugar bush, as falling temps are necessary to trigger the sap run.

And we can't forget about the increasing incidence of severe weather that ranges from stifling heat waves to high winds, ice storms and drenching rains. Sure, we've always had to bear the brunt of such natural calamities, but never have they occurred so frequently, nor quite so severe.

Some of the saddest news centers on the natural return of our largest Adirondack icon, the moose. Extirpated from the region over a century ago due to hunting pressures and a changing habitat that favored whitetail deer, these seemingly docile creatures have reestablished a viable breeding population across much of the park in less that a quarter of a century.

While the sight of a moose is certainly exciting, such occurrences have become so commonplace that the state Department of Environmental Conservation is no longer bothering to collect such reports. Indeed, moose crossing signs have now sprouted up along many Adirondack highways.

However, the Park's territory, which has been so hospitable to their reintroduction, is actually on the very southern fringe of their historic range. It is estimated that a change of just a few degrees in temperature could drive the magnificent creatures north of the St. Lawrence River in just a few decades.

Ice boats rarely sail any longer across Lake Champlain's frozen expanse and the few fishing shanties are no longer set out far from shore, as the big lake doesn't set up regularly with safe ice anymore.

Spring arrives sooner, summer lasts longer and winter comes later now, so while paddlers may have reason to celebrate, skiers, ice climbers and snowshoers grow increasingly nervous.

I am interested in learning how projected climate changes have or will affect the personal patterns of recreation in the Park?

Please let me know by email at tahawus@northnet.org or address a note to Outdoors at the Enterprise.

Pheasants no longer to be axed

Good news for New York's sporting community arrived late last week, when Gov. David Paterson rescinded previous orders to close the Reynolds Game Farm.

"The state has long recognized the economic impact hunters and their industry provide for New York state," said Gov. Paterson in a press release. "I am pleased that sportsmen and women have joined us to help find creative ways to weather the state's fiscal crisis while preserving programs important to them."

The game farm, which raises pheasants for release, was the only one of its kind in the state. The proposal to close it outraged sportsmen's advocacy groups statewide.

Threats of court injunctions and lawsuits sounded from all corners, including county Fish and Game Federations, Conservation Council, Conservation Fund Advisory Board, the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and the Conservation Alliance.

Even a few of the 'Big Guns', national advocacy groups such as the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Pheasants Forever, raised concerns that the proposed closure would signal the death knell for the state's pheasant program.

Eventually, the budget office must have done the math and realized that the closure, which would eventually have saved only about $350,000 of non-taxpayer funds, would result in a loss of several million dollars in revenues through license sales, sportsman's expenditures, youth programs and other related items.

Saranac Lake resident Bob Brown is a longtime sportsman's advocate for the Franklin County Federation of Fish and Game Clubs.

"I think that they (the state) miscalculated in this particular case and made a bad decision. I think the Governor got some bad advice," Brown said. "Sportsmen are very happy that the governor changed his mind. And now that he has changed his position, we should be sure to thank him."

Does the governor's change of pace signal that sportsman's advocacy groups now have an unrealized degree of clout with the governor's office? Can this be considered a litmus test of what the future of fishing, hunting and trapping means to New York sportsmen and women?

"It was a cataclysmic event," Brown explained," which served to unite sportsmen across the state and brought together alot of groups. But, there are a lot more issues that require our attention. Now, we have to see more open and honest discussions with the state."

The discussions must address crucial conservation concerns regarding the overhaul of state fish hatcheries, proposals for license fee increases, a marine fishing license, a trout and salmon stamp, and most importantly, the Conservation Fund deficit that could reach 40 million next year.

However, the most vital matter remains a proposed tax cap on state lands in the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserves; an issue which has served to unite such disparate partners as the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages and the Residents Committee to Protect the Adirondacks.

Many diverse interest groups have joined the Adirondack Common Ground Alliance in calling for the removal of the tax cap proposal, which could cripple towns across the North Country.

We must all do our part to present a unified voice in Albany.

 
 

 

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