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Report: Warming Climate Challenges Freshwater Fish

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Friday, September 6, 2013   

PORTLAND, Ore. – Northwest salmon and trout are some of the stars of a new report that predicts a changing climate doesn't have anything good in store for them – or the anglers who spend so much time and money trying to catch them.

Freshwater fish need plenty of cold, clean water, and a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) report says the warming atmosphere is compromising that.

On Thursday, an Oregon conservation group announced it would sue the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service for not doing enough to protect threatened bull trout.

Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist with NWF's Northwest office, says it's another example of the climate and land management decisions taking their toll.

"Bull trout is one of the salmonid species that's probably the most dependent on truly clean, cold water,” she says. “And you know, they don't have a lot more healthy habitat left to lose."

Glick points out that fish have been incredibly adaptable, but the combination of development, resource extraction and climate change may be too much for them.

The report supports serious action by the Environmental Protection Agency to curb carbon pollution.

Jack Williams, senior scientist with Trout Unlimited, lives in the Medford area and says the deadly bacterial disease Columnaris has become an annual worry for fishermen on the Rogue River, among others, and will get worse if warming intensifies.

"It's a very common disease, but outbreaks occur when flows are low and water temperatures are high,” he explains. “If it's a hot summer or we're in a major drought, we can have large die-offs of Chinook salmon."

The report says snowpack is melting one to four weeks earlier in the spring than it did just 50 years ago. And Amanda Staudt, senior scientist with the NWF’s Climate and Energy Program, says wildfires and their aftermath both take a toll on fish.

"The lack of trees means less shading, and heavy rainfall can wash large amounts of ash and sediment into the rivers, choking fish," she explains.

The report also notes the economic impact of a healthy recreational fishing industry. In Oregon, it says, there are 516,000 freshwater anglers and they spend $445 million a year on their sport.



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