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Changing Tides: Sea-level Rise Hurts Wildlife, Recreation

Rising sea levels are threatening wildlife and the economy of Maryland and other cities along the East Coast. (
Rising sea levels are threatening wildlife and the economy of Maryland and other cities along the East Coast. (
August 23, 2016

BALTIMORE - A new report from the National Wildlife Federation details the increasing threats posed by sea-level rise to wildlife in Maryland. It also makes the case that these threats have to be fought with comprehensive policies that address the cause of climate change: carbon pollution.

Tiffany Hartung, manager with the Maryland Climate Coalition, said Maryland is one of the places that's most vulnerable, and the state is seeing impacts already, having lost nearly 5,000 tidal wetland areas.

"Along the Chesapeake Bay, there's the 27,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge that protects a third of Maryland's tidal wetlands and much of the wildlife that depends on it," she said.

Impacts of sea-level rise in Maryland include: increased coastal flooding, saltwater intrusion into the freshwater that supplies communities, beach erosion, loss of wetland buffer zones, decreased property values, loss of hunting and fishing opportunities, and loss of outdoor-recreation income.

The report suggests a two-pronged approach to the issue, starting with adaptation strategies.

Shannon Heyck-Williams with the National Wildlife Federation, said reducing the root causes of greenhouse gas emissions is key.

"We can't 'adapt' our way out of this problem," she said, "Sea levels are rising and they're predicted to increase dramatically, and we need to do what we can to cut the pollution that fuels the sea-level rise, as quickly as possible."

Hartung said wetland buffer zones along the coast are eroding and can't protect the coast from storms that are getting more frequent and severe.

"And that means for wildlife that's a loss of their habitat and natural places, and then it's also a loss of outdoor recreation income and opportunities that help support Maryland's economy," Hartung added.

As far as solutions, Hartung said Maryland needs to increase state renewable-energy standards, overturn Governor Larry Hogan's veto of the Maryland Clean Energy Jobs Act, strengthen the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and expand wildlife-friendly renewable energy, including responsibly-sited offshore wind off of Maryland's Atlantic coast.

The full report can be read here.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - MD