Wimpy winter weather hits the state’s outdoors economy, says NRC of ME

The Natural Resources Council of Maine is using the recent warm winter weather to point out the potential impact of increasing temperatures on Maine’s hunting and fishing economy.

The group references a U.S. Census Bureau report, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (FHWAR), that puts 2006 Maine expenditures by residents and non-residents at $1.5 billion for hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching and related activities.

“Climate change is here, it’s hurting our outdoor traditions, and it’s past time for our elected officials to take action to cut climate-changing carbon pollution,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine, in a Tuesday release. “Climate change is a threat to Maine’s economy.”

From the NRC of Maine’s release:

This winter illustrated the problems that mild and low-snow winters can have on Maine people, including:

·         Difficult seasons for ski areas and related businesses, especially for cross-country skiing.

·         Canceled ice fishing derbies and reduced opportunities for safe ice fishing.

·         Reduced production and revenues for smelt operators, maple syrup producers, and others.

·         Harmful conditions for game species, including moose and turkey.

·         Increased populations of Lyme disease-bearing ticks.

·         Lost sales for winter-recreation goods and services, such as coats, outdoor equipment, bait, and food and lodging for snowmobilers—including from out-of-state visitors.

The NRC of Maine makes note of a new report from the National Wildlife Federation, entitled “On Thin Ice: Warming Winters Put America’s Hunting and Fishing Heritage at Risk” that looks at the impact of global warming on hunting and fishing sectors.

The Maine group also makes a pitch for new carbon emissions standards being released today.

“Today, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release draft rules under the Clean Air Act that would limit climate-changing carbon pollution from power plants,” the group wrote. “As with other aspects of the Clean Air Act, there will likely be enormous pressure on Congress from the coal industry and their allies to impede real action to address carbon pollution.”

The Maine group also released a series of quotes from Maine business people about the impact of the warm winter on their operations:

Earlier this month, the Bangor Daily News reported that the mild winter weather had eaten into LL Bean’s sales of skis, coats, and other outdoor gear. In the story, LL Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem was quoted as saying, “When you have a winter that was as dramatically un-winterlike as this one, then it  does have a definite impact on the business.”  With its 5,000 employees, the company is one of Maine’s largest employers.

Along the Kennebec River, the economic pinch is felt by the smelt camp owners and local businesses. Sonny, owner of Sonny’s Smelt Camps in Richmond, says, “The ice came two weeks late and the first two weeks are generally the best ice fishing for smelt. That really hurt me and I’m just breaking even now. Not only did we have a late start, we had to close three weeks early. We only got about 3.5-4 weeks this winter.”

Roger Knight of Knight’s Bait Shop in Raymond agrees, “We just didn’t have the ice we normally do. It’s really hurting all the businesses up here.”

“Over the last few years, and particularly in the winter, Maine Huts & Trails has seen significant growth in the number of visitors to our system,” said David Herring, Executive Director of Maine Huts & Trails. “That growth was definitely slowed this winter due to the lack of snow. Our winter season never really gained the momentum we needed it to this year and we saw decreases in visitors in January, February, and March compared to the same three months in 2011. We are currently crafting plans to ensure we do everything we can to make up for our budget shortfall in the remainder of the year with a strong emphasis on the summer and fall tourism months.”

“The way I see it, global warming wrecked my duck season,” said Sam Day, a youth hunter from Hallowell.  “This year, the incredibly warm temperatures made Maine’s duck hunting season the worst I’ve experienced. The warmer winters have messed with our waterfowl migration. I wonder what it will be like 30 years from now? I am very concerned about the impacts of global warming on hunting in Maine.”

Well-known Maine Guide and longtime outdoor writer, Stu Bristol, has never seen anything like it. “Many of the better-known winter ice fishing derbies have been canceled,” said Stu. “And take a look at the Maine Pike. There aren’t any snow machines on trailers headed north these Friday afternoons. Our whole economy is being impacted by the mild temperatures this winter.”

Sebago Lake Rotary Club’s annual mid-winter fishing derby brings up to 10,000 fishermen to the lake. Rotarian and derby organizer Tom Noonan said this is the fourth winter since 2002 that the derby had to be canceled due to quickly deteriorating ice conditions.

“I know when my granddad made syrup commercially in the ‘60s and early ‘70s they always planned on making syrup around the 12th or 15th of March,” says Rodney Hall, owner of Hall Farms Maple Products in East Dixfield. “We’re probably two weeks earlier now. And with this mild winter, our season ended three weeks ahead of schedule. Last year we made over 1,000 gallons of syrup, and this year we made about half that.