PA Tree, Bird, and Fish Look Like Climate Losers

  • The Ruffed Grouse is Pennsylvania's state bird. Twenty-eight thousand breeding males have been lost to climate change since 1980. Photo: Jake Dingel, Pennsylvania Game Commission

June 6, 2014

Icons of Pennsylvania's landscape—the state tree, fish and bird are disappearing. And climate change is partly to blame.

"A few years ago, I didn't think I'd be seeing the changes they're predicting in my lifetime. But I've just been wrong about that," says Ed Perry, an aquatic biologist who retired in 2002 after a 30-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since 2007, he has traveled across Pennsylvania as an advocate for the National Wildlife Federation’s global warming campaign, educating hunters, anglers and conservationists about the effects of climate change on Pennsylvania’s fish and wildlife.

Perry is also a Pennsylvanian and a lifelong fisherman, hunter, who's also into backpacking and kayaking and scuba diving. 

And what he's seen on the ground and heard from biologists has him worried.

"Just since 2005, there have been repeat kills of smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River," Perry says. "You have high water temperatures and low flows. We've been getting these kills of smallmouth bass from a common soil and water bacteria called columnaris. And these kills started in the hottest year in the hottest decade on record. And they continue. ... It's gotten so bad that the Fish and Boat Commission wants the Department of Environmental Protection to declare 100 miles of the middle Susquehanna impaired. These fish kills have spread to other streams. This disease that is killing the fish is moving upstream. Even in streams where there's hardly any pollution." 

If the temperature goes up as predicted, Perry says "the scientists forecast we're going to lose our state tree: the hemlock, the state fish: the brook trout, and our state bird: the Ruffed Grouse. I've talked to a couple of biologists for the Game Commission biologists and they've told me they've lost over 28,000 breeding males of Ruffed Grouse since 1980. So all these species could be on their way out."

Wild turkeys (pictured) are also being lost to erratic weather, Perry says, as early spring rains give the young turkeys and Ruffed Grouse hypothermia.

Trees are not immune from climate impacts either.

"We all know the adelgid is attacking the hemlock, our state tree," Perry says. As average temperatures climb, populations of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, an invasive insect that destroys Eastern hemlock, are creeping up the East Coast, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In addition to educating fellow outdoors enthusiasts about global warming's impacts on flora and fauna and rallying them around federal standards, Perry works on trying to get Congress to pass legislation that will reduce the impacts of climate change. 

So he was particularly pleased when Obama's Environmental Protection Agency rolled out tougher standards on coal-fired power plants this week, meant to curtail climate change. 

"After working on this for seven years, we were all pretty excited to see that finally the President and his EPA is tackling the biggest source of carbon pollution that has not been tackled," Perry says. "What we were especially gratified to see is Sen. (Bob) Casey (D-Pennsylvania) weighing in and actually supporting the President's action. Senator Casey has been fairly quiet on climate change for some time and the sportsmen have been concerned about that, so it's great to hear him speak out and talk about the President's action."

Photo information from top to bottom: Diseased smallmouth bass in Susquehanna. Courtesy: PA Fish and Boat Commission. Evidence of hemlock wooly adelgid on tree branch. Image courtesy: Mark C. Whitmore. Wild turkey photo: Hal Korber, for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Photo of Ed Perry sweet on a fish, courtesy National Wildlife Federation.