Today we’ll give a shout out to climate change or, at least, to studying it and its potential impact on Wisconsin’s water, air and land and game resources.
The change we’re talking about is in the political climate at the state Department of Natural Resources, the state agency most responsible for overseeing those resources and developing policies to shape Wisconsin’s future.
After years of downplaying climate change study, dismantling the state agency’s science bureau and staff cuts under the administration of former Gov. Scott Walker and state Republican legislative leaders, good science and environmental research has been taken out of the back closet at the DNR.
In a memo to all staff last month, DNR Secretary Preston Cole called climate change “one of the defining issues of our time” and said the state agency will once again focus on climate adaptation research and communication as well as working to lessen the damage.
“The DNR is entrusted to protect the people’s resources and as a result we need to recognize the factors that drive change and must plan accordingly,” Cole told staff. “From shifting weather patterns, increases in average temperature, higher frequency and intensity of rainfall to heavier snowfalls, the impacts of climate change directly impact Wisconsin.”
Cole’s initiative was underscored by Dreux Watermolen, chief of the DNR’s environmental analysis bureau, who said understanding the changing climate is essential to the agency’s stewardship of public resources.
“It would not be prudent to stock cold-water fish in habitats that are not going to be cold water. That would not be a good use of resources. It would not make sense to plant trees that in 50 years are not going to be in their range.”
Cole and Watermolen are not alone in their views that government needs to assess climate change and its potential impacts. The U.S. military, at the direction of Congress, released a report earlier this year warning that scores of military bases faced significant risks from climate change — including problems with rising sea levels for coastal bases, increasingly severe weather, droughts and floods that pose a national security threat. And new research shows that climate change is reducing performance of military aircraft. Rises in heat and humidity mean military aircraft will not be able to carry as a heavy a payload or travel long distances without refueling.
We won’t get into the debate here today whether climate change is man-caused or the result of natural fluctuations over long periods of time, but there is no question that changes in our environment could pose far-ranging problems for cities, the military — and for our natural world and its resources.
To adapt and address those issues requires knowledge of the potential impacts and our options — and for that we must rely on good science and studies to chart the course.
We welcome Secretary Cole’s initiative to put scientific study and discussion back on the front burner to protect the state’s natural resources.