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Hurricane Irene Impacts Wildlife on ME Coast

September 16, 2011

PORTLAND, Maine - Mainers continue to pick up after Hurricane Irene, but it's not just people feeling the impact. The state's wildlife will take months or even years to recover from the powerful storm, scientists say.

Hurricane winds can blow birds off course, destroy coastal nests and impact the water quality in both salt and freshwater areas. Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation, says his organization is even receiving reports of animals getting hit by cars on highways as they look for a new home.

"Wildlife are being pushed out of their homes. Their homes are flooded. They need to seek new areas that they can survive in, and so there you have a direct impact of hurricane on wildlife."

The dune and beach loss destroys habitat for many animals such as sea turtles. The storm surge also changes the balance of fresh and brackish water in coastal wetlands.

Hurricanes are stronger now than 50 years ago, Inkley says. He and other scientists attribute that to warmer waters caused by global warming.

"We are causing the climate to change. There is no question about that, and so we do need to reduce our greenhouse-gas emissions so that in the future the hurricanes won't continue to be as strong as they have been in recent decades."

Many coastal trees and forests also saw damage, which disrupts the food source for many animals. Species already close to extinction are particularly vulnerable.

Glen Gardner, Public News Service - ME