Report: Climate change is a challenge for Idaho’s wildlife

Idaho officials said climate change could make preserving and managing the state’s most vulnerable fish, wildlife and plants more difficult.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game on Monday released a draft Idaho Wildlife Action Plan that will guide its management actions for the next decade.

The plan emphasizes blocking Endangered Species Act listings to preserve the state’s authority in plant and wildlife management decisions as well as to restore listed species. The agency is taking public comment until August 31 on the 336-page draft plan that will replace the 2015 version.

“It’s supposed to be a driving force for statewide conservation in Idaho,” said Rita Dixon, Fish & Game coordinator for the plan. “It’s intended to help guide what we do primarily to make Idaho a better place for people and wildlife.”

Dixon said the draft will be reviewed based on public comments and then submitted to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its November meeting. If the committee approves, it will be sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for review by a regional team that includes a director of another state’s Fish and Wildlife Agency. If approved there, the state will still be eligible for the federal grant money. The 2015 plan took months before the Fish and Wildlife Service was signed. Dixon said the state remains eligible for these funds under the current 2015 plan.

The federal legislation called the Restoration of America’s Wildlife Act has passed, and the House of Representatives is expected to acquit the Senate. The $1.3 billion legislation could bring millions of dollars to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to preserve wildlife, fisheries and habitats. A state wildlife action plan is needed to be eligible for this money.

The plan, introduced this year for the first time, includes plants as well as an entire section on climate change.

“Idaho’s climate is expected to become warmer, drier in summer, wetter in winter, and more variable over the next 50 to 70 years,” the report states.

The report notes that the average annual temperature in Idaho has increased by 1.8 degrees since 1895, with more frequent heat waves. Precipitation is becoming more variable, the report said, with precipitation decreasing in summer and autumn as long droughts persist.

The report said spring and winter precipitation in Idaho is increasing but with less snow, and that the state’s ice peaks earlier, shifts toward higher elevations and becomes more inconsistent. In addition, the report notes that soil and fuel moisture are decreasing, causing an increase in wildfires.

The report said that the annual flow of the stream has decreased, that the streams are about 1.5 degrees warmer, and that the peak of the spring stream flow is one to two weeks earlier. The report predicts that stream flow will continue to decline and that the peak of spring stream flow may eventually be four to nine weeks ahead.

Idaho currently has about 20 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including the Snake River sockeye salmon, the Snake River salmon that runs in the spring and summer, the chinook salmon that runs in the Snake River, and steelhead salmon in the Snake River Basin. Other species on the list include bull trout, grizzly bears, Canadian lynx, peppergrass, Kootenai River white sturgeon, and Bruno’s hot spring fish.

Other goals of the plan include maximizing access to traditional use of natural resources such as grazing, mining and timber harvesting, increasing opportunities for voluntary stewardship efforts for ranchers, farmers, and private landowners, and increasing public participation in wildlife management decisions and planning.

The report covers the state’s five major geographic and ecological regions and covers amphibians, birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, invertebrates, and plants. The plan also provides descriptions of 39 habitats that it says are essential to preserving the species.

Besides climate change, other topics analyzed in relation to Idaho’s wildlife include residential and commercial development, agriculture, aquaculture, energy production, mining, transportation corridors, services, human interventions, disturbances, invasive species, pollution, and geological events.

Jeff Abrams of the Idaho Conservation League said he’s still reviewing the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, but he’s found good things hunters, anglers and conservationists love.

“We feel SWAP is a great opportunity to advance the conservation of our state’s precious wildlife resources,” he said. “Any work that you do where you have specifically identified a non-game species is automatically linked by default, by the role of the ecosystem, by the fish and game types that are harvested in the state.”