Climate Change Hits Wisconsin. How Will the State Respond?

An important and informative news story just hit social media feeds this morning. In it, Steve Elbow, a journalist with The Capital Times, lays out all of the many ways that Wisconsin is experiencing climate change. And he details the state government’s effort to not only ignore the problem, but also scrub any previous climate change work from state agency websites.
Earlier this year, we wrote about this very topic and pointed out that thermometers are not political instruments. They simply take the temperature. And the thermometers tell us that our beloved state, like the rest of the world, has a fever.
The Cap Times article spells this out for Wisconsin. We’ve seen a temperature increase of 1.1 degree Celsius in the last half century (from 1950 to 2006). What’s more, scientists say the most likely future scenarios show an increase of another 6 or 7 degrees Celsius by the middle of this century. The changes associated with such temperatures are hard to comprehend.
Consider what that increase of a single degree Celsius has already done to our state – spring arrives earlier, fall runs later, walleye and brook trout populations plummet, corn yields go up with longer growing seasons (unless they go down due to extreme rain events or drought), flooding becomes commonplace – the list goes on and on.
But we’re not writing this post to discourage you with doom and gloom scenarios. To us, the most important point of the Cap Times article can be found in a quote from a former state agency chief.

“What [elected officials] do now could benefit the citizens of the state of Wisconsin for generations to come, but I don’t think they think long-term like that.”

We aren’t going to stop climate change at this point, but we sure could do a better job of preparing for it and addressing its impacts.

Runoff, from field to stream. Photo: NOAA

The state could help farmers implement best management practices that keep soil where they want it during heavy rain events, instead of watching it run off their fields and into our waterways where it contributes to algae blooms. Communities from Gays Mills to Eau Claire to Milwaukee could get more assistance in implementing proactive flood control measures that they now must largely tackle on their own. Instead of simply stocking thousands of walleye into Wisconsin lakes in an effort to bring their numbers back up, government officials could use DNR and USGS climate change research to target the lakes that are most likely to support walleye under our new, warmer conditions and help ensure those lakes stay hospitable.
Here at the Center for Limnology, we encounter the impacts of climate change all of the time. We document the rapidly decreasing time ice cover is on our lakes. We watch fish communities change as waters warm. We see each and every algae bloom on Lake Mendota out of our office windows. And we’re not alone.
Wisconsin farmers have adapted to the new reality and plant their crops earlier each Spring. Wisconsin anglers find more bass and fewer walleye in their favorite fishing spots. Wisconsin emergency managers have witnessed five “100-year” floods and one “1,000 year” flood in the last six years and the cities they work for are already building bridges higher and revising flood forecasts.
The question is no longer, “Is climate change happening?” The question before us now is “what are we going to do about it?”

Top Photo: Spring Green, Wisconsin, July 11, 2008– FEMA Photo Archive/Walt Jennings

Read full Cap Times article here.