Wisconsin’s climate is expected to change substantially over the next 100 years. A changing climate will impact the state’s wildlife, and adaption strategies based on sound research are needed in a relatively short time frame, across a broad range of species and habitats. To assist in this effort, experts in wildlife research and management from across the state have formed the Wildlife Working Group within the framework of the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI). The mission of the Wildlife Working Group is to produce and share information on the impact of climate change on Wisconsin’s wildlife resources.

Potential Risks

spruce grouse

Spruce Grouse
Photo by Karl Martin

Increases in both summer and winter temperature minima, shifts in seasonal precipitation (more in the winter, less in the summer) in much of the state, and more frequent extreme weather events such as very heavy rainstorms or heat waves are examples of some of the changes we may face.  Wisconsin’s wildlife will be impacted by changes to their physical environment such as warmer air and water temperatures, or changes in water chemistry.  They will also be impacted by changing habitat; new relationships with their food sources, competitors, and disease; and even by proposed mitigation efforts such as using biomass for fuel.  Some species, such as the American marten or spruce grouse, may no longer find suitable habitat in the state, while other species, such as white tailed deer, turkey, and opossums may increase their numbers.

american marten

American Marten
Photo by Erwin & Peggy Bauer

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Climate change will not impact all areas or species in the state uniformly. Although the Wildlife Working Group hasn’t yet identified specific vulnerabilities, examples of species or groups more likely to be vulnerable to changing climate conditions include boreal-dependent species such as the spruce grouse, species dependent on ephemeral wetlands such as the four-toed salamander, snow-cover-dependent species such as the snowshoe hare and ermine, and migratory bird species that may be impacted by changes in the timing of green-up in their spring feeding grounds.

The Wildlife Working Group will evaluate vulnerabilities of four categories of species:

  • those with economic impact in the state (e.g., hunted species),
  • those with policy requirements (e.g., rare and endangered) or established priorities (e.g., species of greatest conservation needs),
  • those that are disproportionately important in an ecosystem (“keystone species”), and
  • those expected to be highly sensitive (either positively or negatively) to climate change, but which don’t fall into any of the other three categories.

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Data Needs

Much information is needed to determine the potential impacts of climate change on Wisconsin’s wildlife resources.  Examples of key necessary data include:

common loon

Common Loon
Mike Kleutz

  • changes in river/stream flow volume and periodicity of flooding
  • changes in lake levels
  • changes in snow cover depth/duration
  • changes in lake ice cover period
  • changes in Winter Severity Index (integration of snowfall and temperature)
  • relating changing precipitation to wetland hydrology, especially northern ephemeral ponds, etc.
  • changes in plant/insect phenology impacting migrants
  • changes in frost-free period (impacts on native vegetation regeneration)
  • changes in carbon/nutrient cycling

Many of these variables may potentially be derivable from newly-available, high-resolution climate change predictions for Wisconsin.

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Adaptation Strategies

snowshoe hare

Snowshoe Hare
Photo by Susan Teel

Harvest management strategies may need to be adjusted to accommodate changes in bag limits and harvest seasons for big game, furbearers, upland game, and migratory waterbirds. At-risk natural communities and ecosystems should be identified and when appropriate receive enhanced habitat  management and acquisition efforts. Corridors of immigration/emigration could be considered for wildlife species whose range will constrict out of or expand into Wisconsin.  Laws protecting endangered and threatened species may need to acknowledge that some species will become extirpated from Wisconsin due to climate change, while some vulnerable species may need additional future protection.

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Future Plans / Roadmap

Working collaboratively with other WICCI Working Groups (climate, forestry, agriculture) and stakeholders, members of the Wildlife Working Group will synthesize existing climate research as it pertains to Wisconsin’s wildlife resources.  Applied research and modeling will be used to determine priority research and to generate adaptive management strategies to address future climate change impacts on Wisconsin’s wildlife resources.  Adaptive management and research will be used as a feedback mechanism to infuse new information and approaches into management as they become available.  Frequently updated information and results will be shared with Wisconsin policy makers, stakeholders, and citizens.

The Wildlife Working Group is responsible for producing a risk assessment identifying likely threats to Wisconsin’s wildlife, topic papers describing what is known and where research is needed, peer reviewable research results, and adaptive management strategies.

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Please contact Ben Zuckerberg if you have any comments or concerns regarding Wisconsin's wildlife and the changing climate.