Plants, Animals Share Similar Relationships To Climate Niches

It seems plants and animals should react differently to changes in their climate niches, the temperature and precipitation conditions under which they live.

After all, animals can move to find food, water or shade, while plants mostly must sit and take what comes.

But a new study of more than 2,000 plant and animal species in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution suggests flora and fauna actually share similar responses.

Co-author John J. Wiens, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, said the results mirror current patterns caused by climate change.

“We’ve seen a pattern of local extinctions from the climate change that’s happened already, and the frequencies of local extinctions are actually similar for both plants and animals,” he said.

Wiens and his colleagues tested 10 predictions relating plants and animals to their climate niches.

Members of the 19 plant groups and 17 vertebrate groups followed similar patterns in all 10 cases.

A few examples: Plants and animals tolerate a similar range of conditions; they both adapt at similar rates to changes in their environments; and both can adjust much more quickly to cooler and wetter conditions than to heating or drying trends.

The findings suggest general rules of climatic-niche evolution might hold true for both flora and fauna.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Coloradans increasingly identify as ‘conservationist,’ but will that drive them to the polls?

Kirk Klancke’s voting past makes him a unique political animal. It has nothing to do with his party affiliation as a longtime registered Republican in Grand County, Colorado. What’s different is that he has defined his politics based on water conservation and the environment.

“Keeping our environment healthy has to be one of the most important issues on the minds of our politicians,” said Klancke, who loves to fish in Ranch Creek near his home outside Tabernash. The stream feeds the Colorado River, which is at the crux of many water debates in the West.

Klancke heads a local chapter of Trout Unlimited in Grand County. Because water issues are so important, Klancke says he may break with his party to support Democratic candidate Jared Polis for governor.

“I’m a big fan,” he said.

Klancke is not a typical voter; the environment hasn’t historically been a priority at the polls. In 2016, just 2 percent of national voters volunteered anything related to the environment as a top priority. But that may be shifting in 2018 as voters worry about the Trump administration’s policies concerning pollution, mining, drilling and use of public lands.

“I think, personally, that the environment is the drive engine for this state. Our tourism base, all that money comes because the health of our environment,” he said while casting a dry fly for trout in a tributary of the Fraser River. “I would like to see people get elected just on the grounds that they will be backing environmental work.”

President Donald Trump “is probably the least environmentally friendly president we’ve had in my lifetime,” says Kirk Klancke, who loves to cast for trout in a tributary of the Fraser River near his home in Grand County. “I loved it when Obama took over the presidency. And I’m a registered Republican, for the record.” (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

In Colorado, the annual bipartisan Conservation in the West Survey shows a 10 percent jump to 75 percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents who identify with the term conservationist.

“Generally we have seen that how people identify themselves doesn’t tend change over the time,” said Lori Weigel, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies. “So it’s really been somewhat remarkable that we’ve seen a significant double digit shift.”

“If there’s something going on around you that you disagree with, or you’re not liking the direction that it’s headed, you either get involved in it, and you try to make changes, or you just shut up,” Cindy Wright says of the way her father raised his children. So Wright and her sister got involved in protecting wild horses in Sand Wash Basin. In the process, “We’ve learned how ill-informed some of our representatives are.” (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

You see that change in voters like Cindy Wright, a Moffat County resident who recently co-founded the nonprofit Wild Horse Warriors.

Standing on BLM land near the Utah line, Wright explained that public lands are integral to recreation. They’re also important spaces for wild horses to roam.

The hot and dry weather – and Wright’s affection for the federally managed Sand Wash Basin – motivated her to start a nonprofit to protect the animals.

“If we were treating our own wildlife or our own livestock at home to some extent the way our government treats our wild horses, the humane society would be on our cases,” added Wright.

Wright voted for Donald Trump in 2016 because health care was a primary political issue for her. But the real undecided question for environmental groups is how to harness the frustration of Wright and others into action at the polls.

Wright says she takes elections issue-by-issue. “I don’t vote Republican, Democrat, independent party lines. I vote on the policies being presented during the time of elections, and which ones at that point are important to me.”

Outdoor groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are jumping into the fray. They’ve released questionnaires to inform voters on candidate’s environmental positions, including Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates. Because in some of today’s increasingly close political races, they say a conservation vote can make a difference. The Outdoor Industry Association launched a Vote the Outdoors effort earlier this year that includes scorecards.

Getting out the vote also means pro-environment rallies. That was the goal when about 1,400 people gathered in downtown Steamboat Springs in August to speak out against efforts to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument.

State Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat, Steamboat’s 1984 Winter Olympic gold medalist Deb Armstrong, Routt County officials, native American speakers, and others, took turns at the lectern.

In August 2018, horseback riders were among those protesting a visit to Steamboat Springs by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who was appearing at a private event sponsored by the conservative Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference. (Photo by Hart Van Denburg/CPR News)

Longtime Steamboat resident Sunny Duckels came to protest increases in drilling.

“I really want us to put our government behind looking for alternative methods for energy,” she said, holding a handmade protest sign.

Duckels added that in Steamboat Springs and other Western Slope towns, the environment is the economy. This summer’s drought hurt local fishing and tubing businesses. And climate change could hurt the nearby ski economy.

“I really believe that it’s not a Republican or Democrat issue in our community,” she said.

Event organizer Cody Perry added that there’s palpable frustration with the Trump administration in 2018. Especially about efforts to shrink public lands that went against overwhelming support for protections.

“The landscape is our identity and when we see that taken from us, it’s the same thing as someone coming into your house and taking that from you,” Perry said.

“I see it as a civil rights issue. I see him as marginalizing the sovereignty of tribes and I see it stealing from the American public.”

Searching for poachers, wildlife officers crack down on illegal hunting

FLORENCE, Arizona – Officer Laura Orscheln sets up her binoculars and tripod and stands on a ridge overlooking the quiet desert near Florence, a rural desert community an hour south of Phoenix. Scanning the desert for any movement, the Arizona Game & Fish Department wildlife manager spots something dark moving about a mile away.

Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife manager Officer Laura Orscheln looks for animals and hunters. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

It’s just trash, so she sweeps her binoculars elsewhere. She’s “glassing” – a practice hunters use to identify game from a distance.

But Orscheln isn’t just looking for animals, she’s also looking for hunters. She keeps her eyes peeled and listens for gunshots.

Nearly 100 wildlife managers travel across Arizona to monitor hunts, check tags and licenses and study animal populations. They focus much of their time on protecting wildlife and trying to stop poaching – a duty they say is critical to maintaining healthy populations and ensure the survival of species across Arizona.

Poaching is a widespread problem around the world. According to the Humane Society of the United States, legal hunters kill tens of millions of animals every year. But for each animal killed legally, another is killed illegally, it says.

Experts estimate that less than 5 percent of poachers in the U.S. are caught, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust reports.

In 2017, Arizona Game & Fish issued 76 citations for the illegal taking of big game, fishing violations and the unlawful killing of raptors. The department collected $74,500 in fines.

On this day, a javelina hunt, licensed and organized by Game & Fish, is under way. It’s one of the many big game hunts throughout the year. As a wildlife manager, it’s part of Orscheln’s job to keep track of what’s happening in this expanse of desert.

Javelinas resemble wild boars but are members of the collared peccary family. Some people eat them by cooking them like pork. Hunters in Arizona can kill two a year, with a permit. (Photo by Wing-Chi Poon, Creative Commons )

Because of the negative effects poaching can have on wildlife management – and the multi million-dollar economic impact hunting has on the state – the department has placed an emphasis on catching poachers in Arizona. It offers thousands of dollars in rewards for information leading to arrests, manages the Operation Game Thief website and toll-free hotline (800-352-0700) and even uses robotic mule deer decoys to try to catch thieves.

Tyler VanVleet, the department’s law-enforcement program manager, said the hotline is essential to the mission.

“We can’t be out there 24/7, so we rely quite a bit on tips from the public. We get a lot of information from neighbors and people who are out in the field and see something,” he said. “We rely on people to police themselves and do what’s right by the law.”

Last year, the hotline received more than 1,000 calls from people reporting possible poaching incidents or suspicious activity.

“There’s a difference between a hunter and a sportsman,” Officer Orscheln said. “A sportsman is somebody who goes out and abides by all the laws to the best of their ability. They’re out there with the intention of doing it the right way. It’s not just runnin’ and gunnin’, trying to kill something.”

Officer Laura Orschelna with the Arizona Game & Fish Department patrols a javelina hunt near Florence. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

Hunting in Arizona

During Orscheln’s patrol near Florence, she stopped at a campsite after noticing a javelina hanging by its hind legs from a tree. The hunters had gutted the javelina and hung it to preserve the meat.

When Orscheln arrived, the hunters showed their licenses. The hunters had the proper paperwork, but they had failed to tag their animal. Tags are required for permission to hunt certain animals.

In Arizona, there are small-game and big-game hunts. The hunts are organized according to weapon, species and geographic location. For small game, such as doves, pigeons and squirrels, hunters need a general hunting license, and they must hunt the animal within its specified season. For example, squirrels are in season from October to December.

To hunt big game, such as deer, javelina and bears, hunters must apply for a permit through Arizona Game & Fish. The department issues big-game permits through a draw system, which only allows a certain number of permits and tags each year, depending on the species’ population, Orscheln said.

For example, permitted hunters can take two javelinas a year, but they can only kill one bighorn sheep during a lifetime. (And obtaining a permit isn’t easy – the state auctions or raffles three tags each year, bringing in about $400,000.)

Even if a hunter has a license, failing to tag the animal right after the kill can result in a citation. Orscheln said it’s critical for hunters to tag correctly to prevent “buddy hunting.”

“Buddy hunting” is essentially using someone else’s tag for an animal you shot.

“Or people will – and this is the snakey, criminal stuff – people will kill a deer and not put a tag on it. They make it all the way home, they never get checked,” Orscheln said. “Nobody ever knows. They come back out, and they hunt again on the same tag.”

On the February hunt, the hunter who killed the javelina was in his late teens and said it was his first big-game kill. Orscheln let him off with a warning, but she advised him to that he needs to tag his animal as soon as he gets it.

Poaching doesn’t necessarily only mean killing animals without the proper permits.

Orscheln said one form of poaching is wasting game meat. “People can’t just hunt and kill things. You have to take it home for consumption,” Orscheln said. “Or donate it.”

Following the rules

The department established the hotline in 1979 to bring civil action against poachers, or those unlawfully taking, wounding or killing wildlife, according to the department’s website.

It’s one of the main ways the wildlife managers find poachers. Orscheln said they need callers to provide as much information as possible.

“We need the vehicle that they get in and leave in, and a license plate, and what their equipment looks like,” Orscheln said. “If there’s something weird about the way they walk, we want to know that because it all just helps us narrow in on the person who committed the violation. We’re just like any other officer. We can’t write a ticket based off of assumption and heresy.”

Experts said the hotline is popular because most hunters understand the importance of keeping wildlife populations healthy.

“It is absolutely important to go about everything the right way, as far as getting your tag the proper way, putting in through the lottery system,” said Daniel Gradillas, 39, of El Mirage. “Once they give you a tag, they’re able to record data and know how many animals were taken out of a certain area.”

It’s often a delicate balance. Game & Fish officials must weigh populations carefully. If there are too many animals, diseases could spread. If there are too few, hunting could seriously deplete the population.

“If somebody illegally takes an animal,” Orscheln said, “they have essentially robbed someone else of the opportunity to legally take that animal, or they’ve robbed the population of a breeding animal that would contribute to sustaining the population.”

There’s another reason officials want to keep animal populations at healthy levels.

Hunting in Arizona brings about $592 million into the state’s economy, supports more than 5,700 jobs and generates $42.4 million annually in taxes for Arizona, according to a 2011 study done by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish & Game website boasts that Arizona “offers some of the best, and most unique, hunting opportunities in the nation.”

Gradillas said hunting has been a part of his life since he was a child.

“I first started deer hunting, and to this day, deer hunting still excites me. I love the challenge,” he said. “Any time I go out, I still feel like a little kid. Anytime I look through binoculars and I see a deer, it’s just that excitement that was instilled in me as a child and it never gets old.”

Daniel Gradillas, an El Mirage resident, has been hunting since he was a child. Gradillas is also a taxidermist and is opposed to poaching. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

Poaching: ‘It’s stealing’

Orscheln said most hunters are used to visits from wildlife managers.

During a hunt, Orscheln said she wants to “talk to as many hunters as I possibly can and fly the flag so to speak. Let them know we’re out there.”

“I try to go to an area where I know I’m going to find camps.”

In 2017, wildlife violations in Arizona resulted in $74,500 in civil fines. That money goes directly to the Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, according to the Fish & Game Department. The department uses the money to reward people who report information that leads to an arrest, fund and promote the hotline, and support investigations into possible poaching.

In January, the department offered up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest regarding the illegal killing of a mule deer near Tucson.

“Poaching itself, it’s stealing,” Gradillas said. “It’s one of the most selfish acts that someone can commit.”

“People can go a lifetime going the proper channels trying to get a tag, say, for a bighorn sheep. Then there’s someone who will go out in the middle of the night and blind a bighorn sheep with their headlights and take it, shoot and then not even take the animal, just shoot it for the thrill of the kill. But it’s very unfortunate and sad.”