Secret DNR climate study will be released

sfretwell@thestate.comMarch 25, 2013 

  • Findings

    The report found that climate change in South Carolina could:

    • Deplete food sources for young fish, as plankton needed by developing marine life might not bloom at the time when some sea creatures need to feed on it.

    • Heat beach sand enough to reduce the population of male loggerhead sea turtles, which would hurt reproduction. Turtles hatching in hot sand tend to be mostly female.

    • Cause more “dead zones” in the ocean —stretches where oxygen levels drop sharply, making it hard for marine life to survive.

    • Worsen droughts that kill marsh grasses, which provide shelter for young fish, crabs and other marine life.

    • Push saltwater farther into coastal rivers, killing off or depleting some species of fish and potentially affecting drinking-water supplies. Sea levels could rise as much as 2 feet in the next century.

    • Increase flooding on beaches and marshes.

    • Increase diseases that affect shrimp, crabs and vegetation.

— Criticized for sitting on a report about how climate change could hurt South Carolina, the state Department of Natural Resources plans to release the 102-page study and seek public comment on the implications of rising global temperatures in the Palmetto State.

Agency director Alvin Taylor said Monday “it won’t be too long” before DNR puts the study out for review, although he said it won’t be this week.

“I thought staff spent a lot of time and put lot of effort into a document that we need to put out,’’ Taylor said. “There will be plenty of discussions on both sides of this issue as we go forward. It is our responsibility as an agency to keep up with the science. Let’s monitor what’s being said — on both sides — so that we can try to make good decisions on how we manage our natural resources.’’

S.C. Wildlife Federation director Ben Gregg and Steve Moore, the federation’s special projects manager, said they are glad DNR decided to release the document for public review and comment.

Taylor said the department always intended to do so.

“The benefit of this report is the fact that it exists,” said Moore, a former coastal regulator in South Carolina. “A state agency’s scientists say this is a problem we need to address. It’s past time to argue about whether climate change is happening. It is going to negatively impact South Carolina and we need to do something about it.’’

The climate study, put together by a team of DNR scientists, says South Carolina faces an array of threats from increasing global temperatures and rising sea levels, according to a draft copy obtained last month by The State newspaper.

An invasion of exotic species from Florida, including eels and piranha, as well as dying salt marshes, coastal flooding and increased diseases in wildlife are among a wide number of concerns included in the study, the newspaper reported. The study said rising sea levels could swamp seaside property frequented by vacationers. The study recommends the DNR raise public awareness and help the state prepare for climate change.

But the DNR never released the study for public review, saying in February that its priorities had changed since the draft was completed in November 2011.

After The State reported on the DNR’s failure to release the report, environmental groups and climate science advocates blasted the wildlife agency.

Taylor said Monday he does not envision major changes to the body of the report when it is officially released, but the foreword could be updated. The DNR’s director in November 2011, John Frampton, said in the foreword that global warming is a reality that should be taken seriously — and the public should be informed.

Climate change is a controversial subject politically, particularly in a conservative state like South Carolina. But scientists widely accept that the phenomenon is occurring and that man-made pollution is contributing to rising earth temperatures.

Carbon levels, for instance, are substantially higher today in the atmosphere than they were before the industrial revolution. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, which contributes to rising earth temperatures. The DNR’s climate report said temperatures in the South could increase up to 9 degrees in the next 70 years.

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