Great Lakes Wisconsin Recreation

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Climate Change in Wisconsin
Leopard Frog
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Climate Change Impacts:
Recreation and Tourism

Birders, boaters, hikers, hunters, winter sports enthusiasts, and other visitors are drawn to Wisconsin's lakeshores and inland waters. Tourism and recreation comprise one of the state's top income-producing industries, tallying nearly $7 billion a year. Climate change will affect the type of recreational experiences available in Wisconsin.

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 Wisconsin 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, as a result of range shifts, loss of habitat, and increases or declines of fish populations, will affect anglers on Lake Michigan and Lake Superior as well as smaller inland lakes. The range of warm-water fish is likely to expand northward, while cold-water species, and even some cool-water fish, may disappear from southern parts of the region. Sport fishing in Wisconsin is a 2.3 billion dollar industry, that supports more than 26,000 jobs and generates $75 million in state tax revenue.

  • A Degraded Winter Recreation Experience
    Warmer winters mean trouble for Wisconsin, 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. Thousands of visitors flock to Madison's Kites on Ice Festival traditionally held on Lake Monona. However, trends show a declining duration of ice cover on the lake from 114 days in the 1870's to 82 days in the 1990's. In February of 2002, the festival was moved several miles from it's usual location to another part of the lake with safer ice. The famous American Birkebeiner ski race has been affected by the mild winter weather. Organizers contemplated canceling the race just days before, due to rainy weather.

  • 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 Wisconsin's wetlands and the species that depend on them. Development and agriculture have already significantly reduced wetland habitat, and climate change is expected to exacerbate ecosystem changes. Additional losses of wetland and forest habitat and food resources for migratory songbirds, shorebirds, and waterfowl affects Wisconsin's multimillion-dollar birdwatching and hunting industries.

  • An Expanded Summer Recreation Season, with Risks
    Milwaukee BeachAs 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.

Photo Credits:
Leopard Frog -- John Maguson.
Milwaukee Beach -- WI Div. of Tourism, Milwaukee Dept. of City Development.
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