This January, in Monona Bay, the Yahara Fishing Club did something it hadn't been able to do for several years: Hold an ice fishing event for kids. The groups schedules the event every winter, but the scarcity of ice cover on Madison-area lakes has made the event hit or miss. Mostly miss.
"It's been a problem in the last decade," says Eric Uram, a board member of the club, which for these and other reasons has signed onto a call for national legislation to address global warming.
The Yahara Fishing Club isn't an environmental organization. Its mission isn't to save the planet but to catch fish.
But the group, adds Uram, "has traditionally taken positions on some of the outstanding issues in conservation. And global warming is certainly a challenge. We know that wildlife is both an indicator and potentially a victim of what can happen with climate change."
The global warming pledge was launched by the National Wildlife Federation, a conservation group with affiliates in 48 states. To date, nearly 700 hunting and fishing organizations from around the country have signed on, requesting that Congress pass carbon "cap-and-trade" legislation to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 2% a year.
Of those signatories, 147 were Wisconsin hunting and fishing groups, says group spokesman Craig Culp, making Wisconsin the top sign-on state in the union.
"This is both a green and a blaze orange issue," argues George Meyer, former secretary of the state Department of Natural Resources and current executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. "I think it's an issue that unites conservationists, hunters, anglers and trappers with environmentalists."
Meyer's federation, an umbrella organization for 160 smaller Wisconsin hunting and fishing groups, is also a signer of the national pledge. For good reason, says Meyer: Federation members see global warming's effect up close and very personally.
"These are people who are outdoors and have been outdoors, every year, for many, many years," says Meyer. "They've observed the [climate] changes that have taken place, whether they're deer hunters or duck hunters or fishermen."
According to polling conducted by the National Wildlife Federation, 76% of the hunters and anglers contacted felt global warming was occurring. Another 71% believed it was harming fish and wildlife. Over half had observed warmer or shorter winters where they lived, while better than one-third noticed earlier springs or hotter summers.
"We find those numbers very representative of Wisconsin hunters and anglers, based on anecdotal information and talking with people in Federation groups," says Meyer.
The lack of winter ice cover on Madison area lakes is among the more obvious examples of what appears to be a warming planet. A century ago, scientific studies show, Madison's lakes were capped with ice up to 120 days per year.
"That was down to 90 days a year [a decade ago], and now it's getting closer to 60 days a year," says Meyer. "That's a dramatic change."
Over the last decade, Wisconsin deer hunters have found the November gun deer season downright balmy at times, with temperatures in the 40s, 50s and even warmer. Those abnormal temps throw off the deer rut, usually the prime hunting period, plus remove snow cover for tracking.
Ducks are now migrating later in the year. And warmer temperatures are affecting cold-water trout streams. Says Uram, "The cold-water fisheries we have around here may not be cold enough to allow for trout to continue to survive."
Ed Brost, past president of the Dane County Conservation League, which also signed the greenhouse gas pledge, raises another concern. "Where are the frogs?" he asks. "I have guys tell me that all the time: that they just don't hear the frogs in the spring like they used to."
The link between global warming and an apparent drop in Dane County frog populations may be indirect, Brost speculates. Perhaps both are caused by some of the same factors: "We're putting so much stuff into the air, from the standpoint of creature comforts, heating our homes and driving our cars. I think the whole thing comes together."
Band its pledge signers are rallying around the Climate Security Act (S. 2191), legislation cosponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (Ind.-Conn.) and John Warner (R-Va.).
Introduced last October, the bill calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. According to a Lieberman press release, action on the bill is expected this June.
Closer to home, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and other state hunting and angling groups supported the Wisconsin Safe Climate Act, which would have mandated that Wisconsin cut its emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020. It would have created a mandatory reporting system for tracking emissions, and made substantial investments in energy efficiencies and renewable energy sources.
Unfortunately, in the legislative session that just ended, the bill went nowhere. In the Senate, the bill was approved by the Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources, but did not receive a floor vote. In the Assembly, says Ryan Schryver of Clean Wisconsin, "the Republicans in control" kept the bill from even having a hearing.
In May, the Governor's Task Force on Global Warming is expected to issue its recommendations. The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation is a working-group member; so is Clean Wisconsin.
Schryver says Wisconsin sporting enthusiasts have let the task force know that they believe global warming is a threat to hunting and fishing. He thinks they could help create the political willpower to get things done.
"It's certainly a diverse coalition," notes Schryver. "Hunters from northern Wisconsin walking hand-in-hand in the Capitol with Birkenstock hippies, talking about these [global warming] issues. But it's an effective coalition - and one we're happy to be a part of."
On the Web
Yahara Fishing Club
Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
Dane County Conservation League
National Wildlife Federation, Sportsmen and Anglers Demand Climate Action
Global Warming and Wisconsin: NWF Fact Sheet
Governor's Task Force on Global Warming
Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act (S. 2191)