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Climate change may impact local economy

July 22, 2011
By JOHANNA BOYLE ( , Journal Ishpeming Bureau

MUNISING - You've probably heard how climate change and global warming threaten plant and animal species, but a new report is detailing how changes in climate might be hitting the Upper Peninsula in a different way - its wallet.

Recently released by The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the report titled "Great Lakes National Parks in Peril: The Threats of Climate Disruption" details how temperatures and climate have changed in the Great Lakes region and that impact on ecosystems, wildlife and visitor enjoyment.

"The thing that really struck me is how they put the Great Lakes economy right at the top," said Gregg Bruff, chief of heritage education at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. "I would agree that is a huge issue... Munising and small towns are dependent on tourism to bolster their economy."

The report focuses on five national parks in or along the Great Lakes, including the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Isle Royale National Park, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which together saw more than 4 million visitors in 2010. Pictured Rocks visitors, in particular, spent $18,199,000 in 2009 and supported 300 jobs, the report estimates.

The years 2001-2010 were the hottest decade since the year 1900 for Pictured Rocks, with temperatures averaging 2.7 degrees hotter than the 20th century average temperature, with temperatures projected to increase 8.4 degrees by 2099, which would make the area as hot as recent summers in the Chicago area, the report said.

"If the trends are continuing, they (White Pine and brook trout) might not even live in the U.P.," Bruff said of two of Michigan's state tree and fish.

Since park visitor numbers are higher in the summer, the report states that summer temperatures will have a big impact on visitor numbers.

With summer temperatures in other areas of the country already high enough to make outdoor activities like hiking uncomfortable or dangerous, higher temperatures in the Great Lakes areas could also discourage visitors.

For those who come to parks like Pictured Rocks to see the variety of plant and animal life, climate change has already begun to have an effect, Bruff said. Shorter winter seasons impact activities like snowmobiling and skiing, while warmer summer temperatures have led to an increase in ticks carrying Lyme disease and mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus.

Bruff, working with the Superior Watershed Partnership, has been working to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on the parks through programs like the Alger Energy Savers, which helps area residents take energy-saving and carbon-reduction measures in their own homes.

Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.



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