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Following revelations the state wildlife department has failed to release a major climate change report, the agency’s former chief said the department should be leading efforts to brace South Carolina for the consequences of global warming.
John Frampton, who left the Department of Natural Resources last year, said that the Earth’s rising temperatures will undoubtedly affect the state’s landscape and wildlife in coming years and that the DNR is well qualified to examine the impacts in South Carolina.
“I would liked to have seen the DNR be a leader,” Frampton said this week. “I would have liked to have positioned our staff ... on this. We have experts in the agency” to assess climate change.
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His comments came days after The State newspaper reported that a team of DNR scientists had voiced serious concerns about climate change in South Carolina, although their report has been under wraps since Frampton announced he was leaving the agency in late 2011.
DNR officials say that their priorities have changed and that there is less urgency to release the study, which they say needs some revision. Frampton championed the study and recommended its release in late 2011. The Nov. 18, 2011, draft says it was ready for release.
In the 102-page report obtained recently by the newspaper, scientists recommend increasing public awareness about climate change, while continuing to study the impacts of global warming in South Carolina.
“From a wildlife and natural resources standpoint, climate change is definitely going to have an impact,” said Frampton, who wrote a two-page foreword to the climate report.
The climate report lists potentially substantial threats to South Carolina — ranging from the invasion of exotic eels and piranha to flooding of seaside homes and destruction of ecologically valuable marshes if temperatures continue to rise.
But the study also notes that man-made pollution sources have contributed to global warming. That point is widely accepted by scientists but attacked by politicians concerned about new regulations for industry.
Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Steve Williams, who heads the national Wildlife Management Institute, said some states have tackled the issue of global warming, but others “shy away” for political reasons.
“It could be very political,” Williams said.
Frampton declined comment when asked if he had received any pressure not to release the study before he left DNR. A majority of the agency’s board members were appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley after her election in 2010 on a pro-business, jobs-first agenda. The DNR report was under way when Haley took office in 2011.
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said the governor was unaware of the climate change report.
John Evans, DNR board chairman, also said Haley’s office had not discussed the report with him or other board members, but he said DNR wanted to be careful about conclusions in the climate report. The board has taken no action to release the report.
“The board only wanted to make certain that the effort was not to produce an advocacy document that pointed to the reasons for climate change, which remain under scientific debate,” Evans said in an email to The State last week.
Evans said Tuesday he personally believes human activities are contributing to global warming. But Evans said the agency isn’t positioned to say why climate change is occurring, only how it could affect South Carolina.
He had no timetable for when the report would be put out for public review by his agency.
“There’s nothing anybody was covering up or politically doing,” Evans said. “It was just an informational report that was presented. It wasn’t a priority at the time.”
Haley spokesman Godfrey said the governor believes the “focus of analysis should be less on the sources of climate change and more on the solutions.” Haley is concerned about the U.S. taking action on climate change in the absence of other major industrialized countries doing likewise, which could hurt the economy, Godfrey said.
Meanwhile, DNR board member Larry Yonce said he’s skeptical that global warming is the reason for recent warm winters in South Carolina. A peach farmer from Edgefield County, Yonce said he’s seen fluctuating cold and mild winters during the four decades he’s grown fruit.
“I’m not alarmed,” he said.
Frampton, however, said citizens should at least get to weigh in on the DNR climate change report. He said scientific data show that global warming is a phenomenon that can’t be ignored.
“If the DNR is going to be involved in this in the future, I certainly think the state’s citizens should have the opportunity to have input,” Frampton said.