Climate change could also affect the PPR, but exactly how much isn’t clear. Although climate models vary widely regarding the possible impacts of climate change on the prairies, one model suggests that a warmer climate could dry as much as 91 percent of the wetlands in the PPR by the 2080s and that the breeding population of ducks there could decline by as much as 69 percent, which would dramatically affect waterfowl seasons across the nation.
In the western boreal forest, oil and gas production and tar sands mining could affect large areas of the landscape. By 2020, a total of 760 square miles in northern Alberta—much of it wetland—could be surface mined. DU is working closely with a variety of partners including energy companies to minimize impacts of natural resources extraction on wetlands and waterfowl populations in the boreal forest.
In addition to concerns about resources extraction, temperatures have increased more rapidly at higher latitudes, and millions of additional acres could be converted to agriculture as warmer climates expand northward. In the Far North, melting of the permafrost that underlies many wetlands is causing some of them to go dry. Nineteen percent of the ponds in nine study areas across Alaska disappeared between the 1950s and 2002. Some effects of climate change are now unavoidable, and there could be significant impacts to wetlands and waterfowl habitats in the western boreal forest and Arctic. Although this could potentially benefit some Arctic-breeding geese, boreal waterfowl species such as scaup, wigeon, and scoters could suffer.
Migration and Wintering Habitats
Some of the most important migration and wintering areas on the continent are also among the regions that will be at greatest risk by 2050. California’s Central Valley, the primary wintering area for much of the Pacific Flyway’s waterfowl, has already lost over 95 percent of its wetlands. The projected demands for living space and water put much of the remainder at risk. In the West, runoff from mountain snow accumulations provides 75 percent of the water used by people and agriculture. However, a warming climate could result in reduced snowpack in many western mountain ranges. By some estimates, water flowing from the Sierra Nevadas could be reduced by as much as 30 percent by the end of the century. Water availability and cost are serious threats to the future of waterfowl in this region.
The wintering landscape of the Gulf Coast may also be dramatically altered by 2050. Louisiana has already lost nearly 8 million acres of wetlands. It contains 40 percent of the remaining coastal wetlands in the Lower 48 states but loses 25-35 square miles per year. To make matters worse, projections indicate that sea level rise will accelerate and could be as high as 4.5 feet over the next century. As a result, millions of acres of the Gulf Coast’s wintering habitat could be inundated by the Gulf of Mexico and lost forever.
Other coastal habitats are also in serious jeopardy. University of Maryland researchers have projected that a relative sea level rise of approximately 3 feet in the mid-Atlantic region will inundate most of the region’s tidal marshes, and development will prevent wetlands from migrating inland with rising seas. Projections show that coastal intertidal habitats in Maine could be reduced by 20-70 percent over the next 100 years. And overall, some scientists believe North America could lose half its tidal wetlands by 2100.
Other areas, such as the Mississippi Alluvial Valley, may outwardly change less dramatically because development pressures will be lower. But a potential agricultural shift from rice to biofuel crops would greatly decrease the region’s ability to winter ducks, and waterfowl hunting would change dramatically.