Hurricane Sandy and the Effect on Wildlife

Over the past week, Hurricane Sandy blasted through the East coast of the United States and made her way into Canada. Many people suffered extraordinary losses as their homes were destroyed or damaged by storm surges, flooding, and downed trees. Many lost (and continue to be without) power, leaving them without heat, warm showers, transportation, and fresh food.

Dead tree with broken branches

Here at Animal Fact Guide headquarters in New London, Connecticut, I looked out the window of my darkened house on Monday afternoon. The wind was shaking the building, and big branches cracked as they snapped off a tree and then thudded to the ground. I noticed a squirrel perched on one of the tree’s lower branches huddled against the trunk, bracing himself against the powerful gusts. I wondered if animals were as adversely affected by hurricanes as we were.

I think that with people’s complete dependence on their homes and technology for safety and for their way of life, hurricanes do have a more devastating effect on people. But hurricanes also deeply impact wildlife in several ways:

Wind Dislocation
While songbirds and woodland birds can usually ride out a storm by holding on to their perches, powerful winds from a hurricane can blow migrating birds hundreds of miles off course or push shore birds inland.

Downed tree branchesTree Loss
Downed trees can be devastating to species who rely on certain types of trees for food and shelter. Food sources are also lost as the seeds and fruits get blown off trees.

Storm Surges
Storm surges destroy seaside habitats. Nest sites can be washed away by rising tides. In certain cases, entire beaches can be washed away. (This happened here in New London when Hurricane Sandy washed away Osprey Beach.) The influx of seawater also disrupts the balance of salt in wetlands, causing harm to marsh grasses, crabs, fish hatchlings, and minnows. Furthermore, the flooding causes sediment and pollutants to enter waterways, which negatively impacts marine animals.

What You Can Do
During a hurricane, the best thing you can do is stay safe.  Listen to government officials and heed their advice. Evacuate your home before the storm if necessary and seek shelter in a safe location. Stay inside during the storm to keep safe from falling branches and flying debris. After the storm, avoid going near downed power lines.

In terms of helping wildlife, if you see any rare species or injured animals, report them to your local wildlife agency. You can also fill your bird feeders to help tired songbirds recover after the storm.

But in the grand scheme of things, the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy remind us of the effect global warming is having on our planet.  A warming planet means more extreme weather headed our way more frequently. It means more storms and more droughts. With that in mind, it’s important to renew our efforts to curb our carbon emissions on a personal level and appeal to our politicians to instate policies that will cut back on carbon emissions on a global scale.

Learn more about how hurricanes and wildlife:

Animal Fact Guide’s Blog is Carbon Neutral

carbon neutral offers and shopping with kaufDA.de kaufDA,  a team in Germany, has started an initiative called “Make it green” whose goal is to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.  One aspect of the program is to offset the carbon footprint resulting from the use of the Internet by both raising public awareness about protecting the environment and by planting more trees.  Working with the Arbor Day Foundation, kaufDA will plant one tree in the Plumas National Forest in Northern California for every participating blog. 

If you have a blog, you can have a tree planted in your honor by spreading the word about the program.  See the kaufDA website for more details.

About Carbon Emissions and Global Warming
The climate change phenomenon known as global warming is a result of increased carbon emissions from driving cars, home energy use, and the energy used to produce all of the products and services we consume.  The steady upward trend in temperatures has, and will continue to have, a drastic effect on the planet and its inhabitants.   For example, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has predicted a loss of two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by 2050 due to declines in ice habitats.  According to a Climactic Change journal report by the World Wildlife Fund, by 2070, the sea levels near Bangladesh will rise 11 inches, submerging 96% of the Bengal tiger habitat.  Many animals will be threatened by the change and loss of habitat due to global warming.

About Planting Trees
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) assumes a yearly absorption of one tree to be approximately 10kg (20lb.) of carbon dioxide emissions. The Arbor Day Foundation is working to plant more trees in the Plumas National Forest in Northern California, which lost 88,000 acres of forest due to fires in 2007.

Aside from planting trees, you can help curb global warming by reducing your carbon emissions. This includes walking or taking public transportation instead of driving, using energy saver appliances and light bulbs, buying locally grown produce, recycling, and more.

Scientists Propose Assisted Wildlife Relocation in Light of Rapid Climate Change

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists have created a scoring system to assess whether animals should be relocated to cooler areas to help animals survive on a rapidly heating planet.  Although this idea was balked at in the past because interfering with present ecosystems could spell disaster, scientists now warn that the situation has become so escalated that action needs to be taken.

Two arguments back their position. First, scientists believe that the climate is changing at such a rapid rate that animals cannot evolve quickly enough to adapt to their changing environment.  Second, because humans have altered the landscape so drastically with urban development, animals do not have the space to migrate north themselves.

For more information, see CBCNews.ca.