Shelved S.C. DNR climate warming report edgy but not over the edge

White ibis is one of a number of species whose prevalence or behavior in S.C. indicate the effects of climate warming. Buy this photo

White ibis are found in the Lowcountry far more than the primarily Gulf Coast wading birds once were — 9,000 percent more. Offshore, dolphin fish in hordes are turning up months early. Gobbler wild turkeys strut the fields and females nest a month or more earlier than they used to.

Report highlights

From “Climate Change Impacts to Natural Resources in South Carolina”:“Global warming and cooling have occurred naturally throughout history, but changes in the past were usually much slower than the rate of warming that has occurred in the last few decades.”“The DNR recognizes the need to address potential climate change as a threat-multiplier that could create new natural resource concerns, while exacerbating existing tensions already occurring as a result of population growth, habitat loss, environmental alterations and overuse.”“No discernible relation is seen between the number of tornadoes or coastal hurricanes (sic) land falls and the aforementioned warming trends.”“Sea level rise is a serious concern in South Carolina. ... Potential management responses include inland retreat, coastal reinforcement and beach renourishment, but each option has ecological and economic costs.”“In order to meet the agency’s long-term ability to respond to climate change impacts ... numerous additional strategies and technologies will be required.”“DNR is making climate change an integral part of the agency’s ongoing mission by integrating climate change into the DNR organizational culture, its structure and all aspects of its work.”“In South Carolina, natural resources are essential for economic development and contribute nearly $30 billion and 230,000 jobs to the state’s economy.”

And rising seas are swamping coastal marshes, the nursery for many fish species.

So a controversial report on managing climate warming that was shelved by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources board isn’t prematurely reaching for conclusions. If anything, the wildlife management department is struggling to catch up with a warming ecosystem of adapting species.

A chief concern now among scientists isn’t whether the current warming trend will affect animals and plants, it’s whether the species can keep up with it, said Cary Mock, University of South Carolina climatologist who has studied climate trends.

“My opinion is that if we do (plan management of species), we have to plan it now and it has to be comprehensive,” he said.

The DNR report deals with potential impacts on the state’s outdoor and wildlife resources, and what can be done to manage resources as impacts occur. The report, current through 2011, was shelved by the DNR board in 2012, after the replacement of some board members by newly elected Gov. Nikki Haley, who has pushed for pared-down, “business-friendly” agencies.

Two board members who spoke earlier with The Post and Courier characterized the report as a draft and a controversial proclamation or not a current priority of the fund-struggling agency.

The report released at the newspaper’s request is a revised final draft with a foreword by former Director John Frampton saying that the report was ready for public review, although it contained red lettering across each page that stipulates “not approved for distribution.” The report has since been made available on the department’s website.

The most provocative claims in it are that warming is occurring faster than it has in the past and that temperatures could rise in a range from 4.5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2080.

The report lays out a number of expensive research, monitoring and land conservation measures as methods to manage species in the face of human development and demand.

The temperature-increase prediction “is not too unreasonable for Southeast (states) standards,” Mock said, although 9 degrees “is getting up there.”

The report was presented to the board in July 2012, months after it apparently was completed. Frampton, who oversaw it, was unceremoniously dumped by the board in December 2011.

Board Chairman Johnny Evans characterized the report as a “for information only” agenda item that required no action.

Climate warming and its man-made component continue to spark debate in South Carolina, despite the preponderance of research that shows both are occurring.

“Climate warming is a volatile issue for South Carolina, but it’s not volatile in the real world,” said College of Charleston marine biologist Phil Dustan, who tracks it and has been vocal about a demonstrated, alarming warming trend. “People who think it’s not human-caused probably would also think the Wright Brothers would never fly.”

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744 or @bopete on Twitter.

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