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Report: Climate change a challenge for Idaho wildlife

Sockeye salmon viewable at nature center in Boise
Posted at 5:15 PM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 19:15:41-04

BOISE, Idaho — Climate change could make it more challenging to conserve and manage the state’s most at-risk fish, wildlife and plants, Idaho officials said.

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

The plan emphasizes preventing Endangered Species Act listings to maintain state’s authority in plant and wildlife management decisions as well as recovering species that are listed. The agency is taking public comments through Aug. 31 on the 336-page draft plan that will replace a 2015 version.

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

Dixon said the draft will be revised based on public comments and then presented to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission at its November meeting. If the commission approves, it will be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to be reviewed by a regional team that includes a director of another state's fish and wildlife agency. If approved there, the state will remain eligible for federal grant money. The 2015 plan took months before the Fish and Wildlife Service signed off. The state remains eligible for that money under the current 2015 plan, Dixon said.

Federal legislation called the Recovering America's Wildlife Act has passed the House is expected to clear the Senate. The $1.3 billion legislation could bring millions of dollars to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game for conservation of wildlife, fisheries and habitats. The state's wildlife action plan is needed to be eligible for that money.

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

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

The report notes that Idaho's annual mean temperature has increased 1.8 degrees since 1895, with heatwaves becoming more frequent. The report said precipitation is becoming more variable, with summer and autumn precipitation decreasing with more frequent prolonged droughts.

The report said Idaho's spring and winter precipitation is increasing but with less snow, and that the state's snowpack is peaking earlier, shifting toward higher elevations and becoming more inconsistent. Additionally, the report notes that soil and fuel moistures are decreasing, causing increasing wildfires.

The report said annual streamflow has decreased, streams are about 1.5 degrees warmer, and that peak springtime streamflow is one to two weeks earlier. The report predicts streamflow will continue to decrease and peak springtime streamflow could eventually be four to nine weeks earlier.

Idaho currently has about 20 species listed under the Endangered Species Act, including Snake River sockeye salmon, spring- and summer-run of Snake River chinook salmon, Snake River fall-run chinook salmon and Snake River basin steelhead. Other listed species include bull trout, grizzly bears, Canada lynx, slickspot peppergrass, Kootenai River white sturgeon and the Bruneau hot springsnail.

Among the other objectives of the plan is maximizing access for traditional use of natural resources such as grazing, mining and timber harvest, increasing opportunities for voluntary stewardship efforts of ranchers, farmers and private landowners, and increasing public engagement in wildlife management decisions and planning.

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

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

Jeff Abrams of the Idaho Conservation League said he was still reviewing the State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP, but found good things for hunters, anglers and conservationists to like.

“We feel like the SWAP is an incredible opportunity to advance maintaining our state's precious wildlife recourses," he said. “Any work that you do where you have specifically identified non-game species is automatically connected by default, by the ecosystem role, to fish and game species that are harvested in the state.”