Great Lakes New York Recreation

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Climate Change in New York
Brook Trout
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Climate Change Impacts:
Recreation and Tourism

Tourism in upstate New York is almost exclusively outdoor-oriented, with boaters, hikers, campers, anglers, wildlife watchers, and hunters finding mountains, forests, rivers and thousands of ponds, wetlands, and lakes. It is the spectacular Niagara Falls and the beautiful Lake Erie shoreline, however, that attract most visitors. Climate change will affect each of these areas, and thus the type of recreational experiences available in New York.

The most certain impacts of climate change will be on winter sport activities. Communities and businesses dependent on revenues from winter sports could be hard hit. Some of these communities and businesses, however, may make up the loss by expanding warm weather tourism and recreation. Among the potential impacts with implications for recreation and tourism in New York are:

  • A Change in the Distribution of Fish Species
    As waters warm, the types of fish species that inhabit them will likely change. Increases or declines of preferred catch will affect anglers on the Great Lakes and inland lakes. The range of warm-water fish is likely to expand northward, while cold-water species, and even some cool-water fish, may decline dramatically, potentially to the point where they disappear from the southern parts of the region.

  • An Increase in Summer Stratification
    Stratification of lakes occurs when a warm surface layer of water develops over cooler, deeper water. A warming climate increases the duration of summer stratification in the deep lakes. This, in turn, makes frequent and larger "dead zones"—areas of water depleted of oxygen and unable to support life—more likely. This is especially true for Lake Erie—the shallowest of the Great Lakes. Persistent dead zones can result in toxic algal blooms, foul-smelling, musty-tasting drinking water, damage to fisheries, and massive fish kills—known as "summerkill".

  • Loss of Winter Ice
    Declines in the duration of winter ice on lakes are expected to continue. The loss of winter ice may be a mixed blessing for fish, reducing winterkill from oxygen deficits in shallow lakes but also jeopardizing reproduction of whitefish in the Great Lakes bays, where ice cover protects the eggs from winter storm disturbance.

  • An Expanded Summer Recreation Season, with Risks
    Beach RecreationAs temperatures warm further, extreme heat, extreme storms, elevated ozone levels, and possible increases in risk from insect-and waterborne diseases will affect beachgoers and boaters, and may involve some restrictions and require behavioral adjustments by tourists and local outdoor enthusiasts.

  • An Increase in the Accumulation of Contaminants in Fish
    Lower oxygen and warmer temperatures promote greater microbial decomposition and subsequent release of nutrients and contaminants from bottom sediments. Phosphorus release would be enhanced, and mercury release and uptake by biota would also likely increase—exposing humans to higher mercury levels via fish consumption.

  • A Loss of Bird Diversity
    A warming climate will drive complex changes in habitat, food resources, and other factors that will likely diminish bird diversity. Specifically, earlier spring runoff, more intense flooding, and lower summer water levels generally spell growing challenges for New York's wetlands and the species that depend on them. Already, development and agriculture have significantly reduced wetland habitat. An additional loss of habitat or food resources for migratory birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl will affect New York's bird watching and hunting industries.

  • Degradation of Winter Recreation Experience
    Warmer winters mean trouble for New York, where winter recreation has long been an integral part of people's sense of place. The communities and businesses dependent on revenues from cross-country or downhill skiing, snowmobiling, and, especially, ice fishing, could be hard-hit.

Photo Credits:
Brook Trout -- Gerald C. Bucher.
Beach Recreation -- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
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