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Big Game: The Issue in Brief
Maybe it’s a virulent disease ripping through a Texas herd of whitetail. Or maybe it’s a deep and prolonged drought in the Midwest. The threats to big game are real, persistent . . . and about to become much worse. “You’d think that a warmer climate would take some stress off the big game populations,” says Mark Van Deusen, an avid deer hunter from Prescott Valley, Arizona. “But it appears to me just the opposite is going to happen.”
Scientists agree. Their projections show that global warming
will expand the range of disease-carrying insects,
accelerate the impact of crippling parasites and reduce the
“Cold temperatures are a barrier that limits the spread of potentially devastating outbreaks of disease in our northern big game herds,” says Jim deVos, retired chief of research for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “If that barrier comes down, big game will die from those diseases at a steadily increasing rate.”
Of equal concern is the effect of global warming on the big game food web as elevated levels of carbon dioxide reduce the nutritional value of forage. “The leafy portions of plants will become more fibrous and tough and will contain concentrations of substances that diminish the ability to digest food,” says Ted McKinney, a research biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “As a consequence, big game will weaken and eventually die from malnutrition.”
In addition, high carbon dioxide levels will allow trees to out-compete other kinds of vegetation and reduce critical forage such as shrubs and forbs. This domination by woody species could diminish big game numbers by reducing critical habitat.
Scientists have concluded that global warming will stress big game populations in several ways:
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