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Climate Change Threatening Pennsylvania Wildlife

Shorter winters are making Pennsylvania uninhabitable for the snowshoe hare, according to a new report. (National Wildlife Federation)
Shorter winters are making Pennsylvania uninhabitable for the snowshoe hare, according to a new report. (National Wildlife Federation)
February 5, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania's state tree, state fish and state bird could disappear from the commonwealth altogether by the end of this century, according to a new study that says it's happening right now.

A mini-report by the National Wildlife Federation says every decade the state gets a little warmer, the winters a little shorter.

Ed Zygmunt, an outdoorsman and volunteer for the National Wildlife Federation, has witnessed the impact of climate change over the past 50 years with the decline of hemlock trees.

"The eastern hemlock provides so much habitat to wildlife such as the snowshoe hare, and it helps cool streamside water temperatures, thereby protecting our cold-water fisheries," says Zygmunt.

The trees are falling prey to an invasive insect that once was confined to areas further south but has now spread into New England.

The National Wildlife Federation's report, called "Big Climate Challenges Facing Small Mammals," traces the effect of climate change on several species - changes Zygmunt links to burning fossil fuels.

"What we're hoping to do is at least slow or reverse that trend by getting a handle on the amount of greenhouse gases that are entering the atmosphere," he says.

Key to that effort, Zygmunt says, is support for the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, which would reduce emissions from power plants by about 30 percent over the next 15 years.

He says scientists are increasingly concerned that if the current trends continue, the consequences for wildlife in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country will be devastating.

"It would be a travesty to lose our state tree, the eastern hemlock," says Zygmunt. "Our state fish, the brook trout, and our state bird, the ruffed grouse."

The NWF says the changes that already have taken place were caused by a rise in global temperature of just one degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA