How might climate change affect Maine?

Average Temperature Plot

Residents of the most northern state in the U.S. have much to take pride in. They live in a state covered in beautiful forests and bordered by miles of magnificent blue ocean. Visitors too, appreciate the forest and seascapes of Maine and flock to the Pine Tree State in droves to take advantage of the beloved resources. Maine's economy too is heavily dependent on the natural resources of the state with forestry and forest products, commercial fisheries, and tourism driving the economy. Forest-based manufacturing contributed $5.31 billion to Maine's manufacturing sales in 2007, tourism contributed $6.7 billion in sales revenue in 2006 and the commercial and recreational fisheries industry contributes approximately $1 billion per year to the economy.

Numbers like that leave no doubt that the life of the average Mainer is intertwined with the natural resources around them so it is not surprising that Maine's residents are concerned to see the resources they depend on changing before their eyes. Over the last 100 years, the sea level along the Portland, Maine coast has risen eight inches and in the last 40 years, sea surface temperatures have increased two degrees, causing further sea water expansion. Global temperatures are expected to continue increasing for the foreseeable future and that means further melting of glacial ice, continued rises in sea level, more frequent and intense storms (including hurricanes), more rain and less snow and snowpack in Maine.

Turning our attention to the economic impacts of climate change, we see that more intense hurricanes and rising sea levels are not good news for the thousands of visitors and residents of Maine's beautiful coasts. To adapt to this change, infrastructures along the coast will need to be reinforced, rebuilt, or in some cases, moved, to accommodate the changes around them. Winter tourism, from activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, and other recreation activities, may take a hit with decreasing snowpack. On the flip side, warmer temperatures may bring the summer tourist season a boost, with longer shoulder seasons on both the front and back end.

What does this mean for Moosehorn NWR?

Maine is home to many iconic plants and animals such as moose, loons, puffins, lobsters, clams, Atlantic cod, balsam spruce, fir, white pine, and more. Changing climates will influence all of these organisms in one way or another.

Shellfish Illustration

When oceans increase in temperature, for example, they also take up more CO2 (carbon dioxide). More carbon dioxide makes the oceans more acidic and increased acidity is not so good for shellfish like lobsters, clams, and mussels. Lobsters that experience increased acidification, for example, generally create softer shells or change their shell shedding time and both of these things may make them more susceptible to diseases. Warmer ocean waters may also provide better habitat for pests and pathogens that typically die out over the cold winter months, increasing the types of diseases the lobsters could be susceptible to. Atlantic cod are also expected to be negatively impacted with warmer waters. Their distributions are expected to become more restricted and the populations are expected to decline in the Gulf of Maine by 2100.

Land based organisms are not immune to a changing climate either. Balsam fir and spruce forests in Maine may give way to more deciduous tree-dominated forests such as red maples. Chestnut oaks may also expand their range throughout the state. Wildlife populations, such as those of lynx and marten, are expected to decrease with decreasing snowpack, while other species, such as Virginia opossums, are expected to expand their range. LynxThere is concern that exotic and some invasive species will become more noticeable in Maine with a warming climate. Hemlock wooly adelgid, Asiatic clam, large-mouth bass, and Asian shore crab are just some of the species Maine residents will need to watch for.

Incorporating climate change preparation into current planning processes like the State Wildlife Action Plan will help prepare Maine for the changes to come. Land managers with Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge will also need to stay alert to the changes in the plant and animal populations they manage. As populations shift and change, the management strategies used by the staff will need to adapt as well.

Learn more about how climate change may affect Maine by checking out our Sources section below.

"Wild creatures, like men, must have a place to live. Wherever you meet the sign of the flying goose - emblem of the National Wildlife Refuges . . . respect it. It means that the land behind the sign has been dedicated by the American people . . . to preserving . . . or restoring . . . the conditions that wild things need in order to live."

Rachel Carson in "The Land Behind the Sign"


Photo: Shellfish illustration, Courtesy of Bob Hines and the USFWS; Lynx, Courtesy of USFWS

The Nature Conservancy and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. People and Nature: Adapting to a Changing Climate; Charting Maine's Course. February 2010. Accessed Sept 2011.

Jacobson, G.L., I.J. Fernandez, P.A. Mayewski, and C.V. Schmitt (editors). 2009. Maine's Climate Future: An Initial Assessment. Orono, ME: University of Maine. Accessed Sept 2011.

Climatograph data from The Weather Channel website. Accessed Sept 2011.