What would a morning at camp be without the sound of a loon to signal a new day? If nothing is done to mitigate the impact of human-caused climate change, Maine is going to find out.

According to a report released in October by the National Audubon Society, the presence of at least 106 bird species in Maine will be threatened if climate change continues unabated and temperatures rise, as expected, by 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, eliminating habitat and food sources, raising sea levels, and bringing harsh weather. That includes loons and boreal chickadees.

These species are not just welcome sights in our backyards, lakes and ponds, and symbols of the Maine way of life. Birds are also important parts of their ecosystems, and their sensitivity to the world around them makes them – pardon the phrase – canaries in the coal mine for the devastating effects of climate change.

“Birds are indicators of what happens to us in the future,” Jeff Wells of the National Audubon told Deirdre Fleming of the Portland Press Herald in October.

The Audubon’s sobering report comes as conservation work regarding loons in New England is really paying off. A focus on protecting nesting sites and discouraging the use of fishing tackle has brought populations back from the brink, with record numbers of nesting pairs found in 2019. Vermont, with 101 pairs, set an all-time high. Maine, with the highest population in the East, has 3,129 pairs, almost double the number found in the 1980s.

Yet if carbon emissions are not reduced – if everything continues as is – and the Audubon’s worst-case scenario plays out, that conservation victory will be short-lived. Slowly, the loon’s wail will disappear from Maine lakes and ponds, along with a million other ecological and cultural impacts.

Elsewhere, those changes will occur much quicker, as is being seen in Australia right now. The fires that have consumed more than 1.5 million acres since September – an area as large as Massachusetts and New Hampshire combined – have also killed more than a billion animals, included one-third of the koalas in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state.

This is how climate change is changing our world. Sometimes, it happens so slowly that it’s hard to see with the naked eye, such as how once-secluded ticks are now everywhere, or how lobsters moved up the coast. And, as with the fires in Australia, it can happen so quickly and dramatically that it is difficult to fathom.

Researchers warned repeatedly over the last decade of the increased fire potential in Australia caused by the warmer temperatures of climate change, and they were ignored. The Audubon’s report is another such warning, among many others, that is telling us what’s to come.

 


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