Biologist: Climate change clouds trail ahead

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Biologist: Climate change clouds trail ahead

Geer tells conference impacts on fish, wildlife occurring now

COEUR d'ALENE — Bill Geer gets that there are skeptics — and there probably always will be — about climate change's impacts on fish and wildlife.

The retired wildlife biologist has been there, thought that.

"I was skeptical because I had not seen enough evidence," Geer said.

Times have changed, and so has Geer's view of climate change.

These days, Geer speaks to groups across the West in hopes of jolting citizens regarding what he believes are serious issues brought on by declining stream flows, drought, pests and other factors.

Geer, who lives outside Missoula and is a wildlife adviser for Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, spoke on Tuesday to about 300 attendees during the opening night of the sixth annual Northwest Climate Conference that runs through today at The Coeur d'Alene Resort.

"For years, we thought that the impacts of climate change would be in the next lifetime," he told The Press in an interview after his presentation. "Well, guess what? They're happening right now, in our lifetime."

Geer said with declining streamflows due to less snowpack, trout are having a more difficult time surviving and there has been loss of spawning capability.

With cheatgrass overwhelming sagebrush in areas like eastern Oregon, mule deer habitat is more limited, he said.

Mountain pine beetles have decimated millions of acres of forest.

With a hot and low water year, bears are coming down from the mountains more due to scarcity of food in the mountains.

"That's a direct effect of climate change," Geer said.

Elk, meanwhile, aren't having as difficult of a time adjusting because they can migrate and find suitable habitat higher in the mountains, he said.

"Elk can go farther (than mule deer) and survive in higher areas," Geer said. "In some species, the impacts of climate change has come on faster and harder."

Geer said combating the effects of climate change starts with people making personal decisions.

"You first have to come to the realization that science is actually showing evidence beyond reasonable doubt," he said.

Geer said the next steps are to encourage lawmakers to support efforts that restore habitat and wildlife resources.

While the effects of climate change continue to be debated, several governmental agencies, tribes and universities sponsored the climate conference.

"It's important that we bring it to the attention of sportsmen," said Idaho Fish and Game Panhandle Regional Supervisor Chip Corsi. "This past summer we got a glimpse of what may be the future. That means we have work to do."

Kristy Reed Johnson of Post Falls, a member of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance and board member of the Aquifer Protection District, attended Geer's presentation. She said whenever sportsmen, scientists, environmentalists and government officials can converge on a topic as complex as climate change, that's a good sign.

"There's overkill with everything, but where is the balance?" she said. "I think that Geer is just trying to make everybody start to think. I think he's on the right path. Whether you believe in climate change or not, it's time to stand up and look around you. What are you seeing?"

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