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North Fork Outdoors: With climate change, just seize the moment

03/27/2016 12:00 PM |

As our readers well know, the February-March transition period this year provided only limited opportunities for winter recreation in traditional eastern areas. When a couple of weeks ago we finally saw four inches of fresh snow up on our farm, I put everything aside for an hour on a Sunday and finally skied a bit of the trail from our house to the Canadian border.

Sure there was ice under the powder, leading to one embarrassing splat, but for the most part it was a wonderful run at 15 degrees under a beautiful clear blue sky. Then, last week, in a mood of despair about downhill skiing, we had a conversation with a couple who had actually spent a decent afternoon in a family area, Titus Mountain, only a half-hour away. So we jumped out early last Sunday after chores and enjoyed a few hours on that hill. OK, there wasn’t much snow in the woods, and the stuff atop the icy base was fast and thin and granular, but skiing was quite doable. The cruising trails were acceptable.

Currently it’s raining and warming up north so there isn’t much left now but ice, but the satisfaction of doing a carpe-diem thing not once, but twice, in the space of a couple of weeks makes us smile.

In the outdoor world these days, as we’ve repeated in a number of columns, one has to be resourceful when opportunities, even fleeting ones, present themselves. Thanks to the inexorably changing climate in the Anthropocene in which we live, those opportunities are shorter than ever and, regrettably, come less and less frequently. Did you pass on that three-week run of 20- to 30-pound striped bass off the South Shore in the fall of 2014? Did you turn down an invitation to scramble your schedule and fly to the Mirimichi in New Brunswick for a chance to fish Atlantic salmon 20 years ago when the river had an historic run? Nervously you now ponder the possibility that such chances might not come again in your lifetime — just like the incredible spring tiderunner invasion in the Peconics for about a decade in the 1970s and 1980s.

Advance preparation and organization are essential for successful impromptu outings. Despite a dearth of snow, you must keep skis, boots and poles in a handy corner where you can grab them on a moment’s (a half-hour? hour?) notice. Ditto for thermal underwear and parka, gloves, helmet or cap.

Even when the autumn run of bass and blues looks like it will never come (and maybe it won’t) the rods, reels and rigs also have to be ready just in case. Sometimes you simply have to “go with what you’ve got” if opportunity knocks, improvising, if need be. The lures may not be perfect, but at least you can sharpen hooks, tie knots and do a perfunctory job on the reels. If a rod has dodgy guides, leave that outfit home and grab another. The old adage is as good today as when you first heard it: the perfect is the enemy of the good.

To be sure, it’s discouraging to understand the implications of global warming, i.e. climate change. In a nutshell, things are going to get worse for a half-century or more and may only level off after that if the human race is lucky enough to throttle back carbon emissions.

If by century’s end, we somehow find a way to not merely eliminate emissions, but actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, a collapse might be avoidable. For responsible global leaders, mitigation is imperative. For the outdoorsperson and ordinary citizen, it’s all about adaptation and living with the conditions of the moment, which provides adequate rationale for the carpe-diem approach.

Humans, of course, have always been able to adapt, even when it involves a certain ratcheting process. We shake our heads and keep going. If winter flounder disappear, we turn to other stocks that remain and pray that we can manage them better, at least for a while. Too bad we’ve eliminated weakfish, but, never mind, the spring scup run is spectacular and we’ve certainly learned all about catching big summer flounder or fluke as stocks rebound.

As ecosystems warm throughout much of North America, we’ll see some species adapt, even thrive, while others become threatened and go extinct.

Our favorite game bird, the ruffed grouse, seems all right for now in the mixed managed forests of the northeast, but its decline in the southern Appalachians is depressing, just like the disappearance of the bobwhite quail everywhere. If not for game farm releases, it appears “gentleman bob” isn’t going to make it on its own.

Some species, of course, will have to move as climate change intensifies. If and when the polar ice sheets collapse, even Homo sapiens will be affected, winding up on higher ground along the spine of Long Island!

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