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Following drought, Utahns now battling onslaught of bugs, report says

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue | Posted - Aug 19th, 2014 @ 3:21pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has weathered one of the worst droughts the country has seen in more than five decades, blistered under the relentless march of wildfires, and is now battling an onslaught of virus-carrying mosquitos.

A reportreleased Tuesday underscores the threat from pests that transmit West Nile virus or Lyme disease, indicating that impacts from a changing climate can be insidiously small and often overlooked.

"Ticked Off: America's Outdoor Experience and Climate Change" details how eight species of plants or animals are being impacted by warmer temperatures, longer growing seasons and milder winters.

"The reason that we chose the particular species that I am talking about is that they are particularly bothersome in the great outdoors, and they demonstrate that the outdoor experience is already changing," said Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation and lead author of the report.

Encounters with tiger mosquitoes, fire ants, poison ivy and deer ticks compromise the safety and pleasure of being in the outdoors, potentially ruining the experience for millions of Americans who camp, hike, fish or engage in some other activity like wildlife watching, according to the report.

"Our natural world is undergoing dramatic change as the climate changes, and the changes affect us in many different ways, including the pests in the outdoors who bother us," Inkley added.

The report details the increasing prevalence of nonnative species such as the fire ant and the Asian tiger mosquito — which has not yet made it to Utah — but threatens to compound an already troublesome problem in the state with mosquito-borne West Nile virus.

This season, mosquitoes carrying the potentially fatal disease have been identified in seven of Utah's counties, and at least one human case has been reported every year in the state since 2003, when it was first detected here.

With the unseasonably wet summer of the past several weeks, mosquito abatement districts are stepping up their fight to control the pest, which infected 158 Utah residents in 2006 and killed five.

"So often when we talk about climate change we are loaded with images of glacial cliffs falling into the water or polar bears stranded on ice," said Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation. "Too rarely do we talk about the local impacts. But the impacts of climate change are all around us, and there are few areas where they are more pronounced than in the outdoor experience that so many of us hold dear."

Some observations noted in the report include:

  • Toxic algae is becoming more problematic in the nation's warmer waterways, robbing fish of the oxygen they need to survive. Intense storms, according to the report, are resulting in a greater runoff of algae-producing nutrients such as phosphorus.
  • Poison ivy, a native species, is more abundant due to greater levels of carbon dioxide, which is also making the plants more toxic.
  • Milder winters are predicted to greatly expand the range of deer ticks, responsible for Lyme disease.

The report calls on public policymakers to reduce carbon emissions from large sources, pursue renewable energy and adopt "climate smart" conservation strategies for wildlife and ecosystems.

Email: Twitter: amyjoi16

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