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South Dakota getting wetter, warmer

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

South Dakota is getting wetter and warmer because of climate change, and it's an issue state wildlife officials aren't willing to ignore.

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The effects of climate change on the state are confronted in a revised version of the South Dakota Wildlife Action Plan, which was released by the state's Game, Fish and Parks Department earlier this month.

It's one of many such plans developed by all the states and five U.S. territories, each aimed at conserving wildlife and habitat before either becomes too rare or costly to restore. South Dakota's plan was first approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2006.

Work on the state's first major revision of the plan began in 2011, and a draft of the revised plan was released earlier this month for public inspection and input. The agency will take public comment on the plan through June 6, after which it will be finalized and submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Mark Cochrane, a professor at South Dakota State University and a senior scientist at the Geospatial Science Center of Excellence, both in Brookings, was contracted by the state to study how South Dakota's climate is likely to change and provided information used in the revised plan.

"Everybody is coming to the realization that it's a problem they're going to deal with," Cochrane said in an interview Friday with The Daily Republic.

Cochrane said his research found the amount of precipitation in South Dakota has been trending up for a long time, and it's a trend that's expected to continue.

"We're not getting heat waves, but we're getting a lot of water," he said.

Hotter temperatures haven't yet been a major concern in South Dakota, but that's expected to change, Cochrane said.

For most of the state, the plan says climate change will mean more inconsistent precipitation during the growing seasons, along with significant temperature increases.

The average annual temperature across the state from 2021 to 2050 is expected to be roughly 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was from 1961 to 1990, according to the revised plan. And the average annual temperature from 2070 to 2099 is expected to be roughly 2 degrees Celsius higher still, if not more.

As the planet warms, the atmosphere can hold more moisture, Cochrane said, and that can lead to more extreme weather events.

"What we have now is more energy bouncing around in the atmosphere," he said. "So, we get periods of more intense rain when we get them, or we get dry periods because it rained intensely somewhere else."

South Dakota's wetlands are expected to be affected by climate change, particularly in western parts of the state, the plan says. Hotter temperatures in the summer will mean more evaporation, requiring more rain in the spring to maintain the wetlands.

The plan says climate change wasn't considered in the state's earlier version of the plan because "climate change was a concern at the time, but information on its effects and possible responses still contained enough uncertainty to preclude its incorporation."

While Cochrane praised state wildlife officials for confronting climate change, he admitted it's made conserving the state's wildlife and habitat more complicated.

"It's not so different in that you always want to keep up to date," Cochrane said. "The problem now is you have to account for yet another thing."

In exchange for developing the plans, money from the State Wildlife Grants program and other federal programs is given to the states and territories.

In the federal fiscal years from 2001 to 2013, South Dakota received approximately $8.1 million from the State Wildlife Grants program, according to Eileen Dowd Stukel, a senior wildlife biologist with the GF&P's Wildlife Division.

Dowd Stukel said the state's plan takes a broad approach to conservation by outlining how to care for the state's variety of habitats, rather than specific species.

It's a plan intended to extend beyond the GF&P, to all the state's residents, Dowd Stukel said.

"As an agency, there is no way to accomplish everything in the plan," she said. "We've written it in a way to encourage partnerships and to provide ideas for others to look at."

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