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Let's put the cold winter in perspective, please

The Wildlife Forecast

Monday, March 01, 2010

Media contact: Patricia Behnke

Nine days of unseasonably cold weather in January hit us Floridians hard; that's for sure. But the most vulnerable ended up being the wildlife, particularly those that live in or near salt water.

Manatees, sea turtles and saltwater fish all showed us their vulnerability to changing temperatures, and without help, many of those impacted would not have survived. More than 4,500 sea turtles were rescued, with an 80-percent survival rate. At last count nearly 300 manatee carcasses had been recovered. Cold-stressed manatees are still being rescued.

"It was an unprecedented year; I've never seen anything like it," said Dr. Robbin Trindell, a 13-year veteran with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's (FWC) sea turtle program. "We loaded a large van with sea turtles rescued from the Panhandle. I thought they were all dead, but soon after they were removed from the cold temperatures, they began moving around."

Trindell, who says she was only one small part of the effort, credits the survival rate of these rescued sea turtles to tremendous efforts by many agencies and volunteers who gave up sleep during the many days it took to pull off this gargantuan job.

Before the last icicle melted in North Florida, the public debate began on climate change and the cold winter. It is important to remember that weather occurs over the weekend; climate occurs over the decades and centuries. Climate looks to trends, and the trends still point to warming temperatures and major shifts in climate.

Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University atmospheric scientist and co-author of the 2009 "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States," stated recently that climate change means extreme events, globally.

In Florida, "extreme" means something different than to the rest of the country. Because of our location and our shape, we will experience the impacts of sea-level rise most immediately. Even though the number of hurricanes may not increase, the intensity of the storms will, just as the intensity of the snowstorms in the northeast increased this year.

Even if you dispute the facts of climate change presented by the world's leading scientists and don't believe droughts, floods, snowstorms or hurricanes have increased in intensity and unpredictability over the past decade, perhaps you can agree with something I read in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in late February. It summed up my feelings on this subject exactly, and those thoughts were written by someone who sits on the opposite side of the fence from me when it comes to climate change philosophy. But his point is valid; just because we might disagree does not mean we don't have some common ground on which to meet.

Greg Parks is a small-business owner and local politician from Pittsburgh. He wrote, "We have a responsibility to our children and their children to leave the planet in a better condition than we found it. To accomplish that task we must put the partisan sniping behind us, ignore the cash calls from the political industrial complex and focus on doable projects that can make a positive impact on the environment by the end of the decade."

Who can disagree with that? So let's leave the climate change discussion for another time and face the facts. The global community has seen some of the most extreme weather conditions in the past decade, and models suggest this will continue. For wildlife managers, preparing for the extremes to help wildlife survive until animals can adjust to the unpredictable weather patterns is crucial. All of this work requires funding in a time when our economy can least afford it. But there is one way to help that is beneficial to both you and wildlife.

Purchasing a specialty license plate helps pay for research and monitoring for some of our most vulnerable wildlife. The plates offered by the Wildlife Foundation of Florida are manatee, panther, sea turtle and bass, and all the money collected goes to the FWC and other organizations to support those animals and their habitats. The Conserve Wildlife plate depicts Florida's threatened black bear, and money from that plate provides funds for many other kinds of wildlife. Go to www.buyaplate.com for more information.

When you give the tax collector the extra money for the specialty plate, you also purchase a great piece of art to grace your energy-efficient vehicle. Save wildlife, support art and conserve the planet - not a bad way to spend a few bucks, no matter what you believe.



FWC Facts:
The North American Amphibian Monitoring Program is an international effort of the U.S. Geological Survey to track changes in frog populations over time.

Learn More at AskFWC