Monday, December 8, 2014

Climate Change Impacts New England Economy

Here in Texas, hunting and fishing is big business, as is wildlife watching. Texas is one of the premier locations in the entire country for these outdoor activities. People come here to see everything from butterflies to birds to mountain lions and javelinas. Taxes on hunting and fishing gear pay for many of the natural programs we have, such as the state parks, recreational areas and wildlife areas. Tourism dollars are huge. I live in the heart of deer hunting country and the economic impact of the hunters coming out here is enormous. Many of the businesses would have a hard time surviving without the money hunters spend. And, since Texas has very little public land, hunting is done primarily on private land by purchasing hunting leases from land owners. This income for the land owners can make the difference between paying their taxes and not. According to a study by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,

In 2006, 6.0 million residents and non-residents participated in some form of fish and wildlife-related recreation in Texas. These anglers, hunters and wildlife viewers spent $8.91 billion in retail sales ($8.24 billion by residents and $671 million by nonresidents), creating $4.67 billion in salaries and wages, and supporting 139,404 jobs. The total economic effect (multiplier effect) from fish and wildlife-related recreation was estimated at $15.8 billion.
The state received nearly $890 million in tax revenue that year. That comes out to about $34 for every single person in the state. That figure does not include the tax revenue the state received from sales on ordinary items hunters purchase while on the road.

Obviously, outdoor activities is huge business and everyone in the state benefits from them.

Now, the outdoor activities in New Hampshire and Vermont do not approach the levels in Texas, but neither does the population. It is fair to say the people of those states enjoy the benefits of outdoorsmen much the way the people of Texas do. Possibly even more, on a per capita basis.

So, what's the point?

The point is the moose population in New England is crashing. The size of the population is down as much as 40% over the last three years. As a consequence, Vermont is issuing 335 moose hunting permits when it issued 1200 just a few years ago. New Hampshire is issuing 125 permits, down from 675. Along with the decrease in revenue from the sale of those permits comes the corresponding decrease in business the hunters bring along. These figures do not include the economic damage done when wildlife viewers stop frequenting the area. In other words, the people of Vermont and New Hampshire are losing the economic benefit of having moose in their states.

What caused the decline? It is related to a phenomenon known as the 'ghost moose.' A moose has a protective layer of brown hair that gives it the familiar appearance. But, the stubs of this hair is white. The moose in the area have been rubbing the hair off, leaving only the white stubs visible and turning the normally brown moose into the white 'ghost moose.'

ghost moose
Source: Don Meredith: Death in the Woods

The story behind why they do this is pretty horrific to imagine - the winter tick. Thousands of them. Sometimes as many as 50,000 ticks on a single moose. They are rubbing their hair off in an attempt to remove the tick infestations. The infestations can get so bad the moose is literally drained to death by the blood suckers, which can each grow the size of a grape. Imagine a moose covered with 50,000 grape-sized ticks.

Winter ticks are not new. They are not even new to the moose's range. What is new is the warmer winters that are allowing the ticks to multiply in such devastating numbers. The winters in New Hampshire are four degrees warmer than in the 1970s. The falls last longer and the spring comes earlier and there is less snow on the ground. The warm weather is conducive to the ticks breeding. Also, the lack of snow makes it easier for them to survive because birds will eat them when they spot them on the snow. Warmer weather and less snow means more ticks survive to breed and make the population ever larger next year. That will allow them to suck even more moose to death next year.

So, as the moose population declines (and New England is not the only place this is happening) we can expect the deniers to say, "So what? The world will be fine without a few moose." I think those people in New England that benefit from having the moose in their states will disagree. When someone tells them of how climate change is good for them, maybe they'll point out how much income they and their states have lost because of it. And, that is just the from the decline of the moose.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry will continue to tell you it isn't a problem.

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