Last fall, a woman called the newsroom to let us know a pair of loons had made a migratory stopover at Lake George in Rochester.
As we get ready to move the Post Bulletin offices to a building near that lake, I’m hoping we haven’t missed them this year. That is, if the same birds or others are following the same migratory route as last year.
Hearing the distinct, plaintive croon of the common loon is an essential Minnesota experience. The large birds, which nest in the north half of the state in the summer, were designated the state bird in 1961.
A new report from the Audubon Society warns that climate change could push common loons out of Minnesota. Audubon Society scientists mapped the current ranges and habitats of 604 North American bird species. They then estimated those bird species ranges under warming of 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees and 3 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The study measures where the birds would go if they will move to keep up temperature, habitat and vegetation changes. The study found 389 of the species studied are projected to lose most of their current ranges and have relatively few or no opportunities to move elsewhere.
Three degrees of warming could prompt the loon to vacate Minnesota entirely as part of its summer breeding range. According to the study, the common loon would lose about 27 percent of its total summer breeding range. The study estimates loons would lose about 16 percent of their current range with 2 degrees Celsius of warming over preindustrial levels and 12 percent under a 1.5 degree scenario.
A report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows the global temperature has already gone up 1 degree Celsius since the 19th century. Even 1.5 degrees is a stretch target. According to the IPCC, cutting carbon emissions in half worldwide in the next decade would give us about 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees. Considering carbon emissions have actually increased in 2017 and 2018 after some stability in 2014 through 2016, that significant of a reduction seems unlikely.
The IPCC set 1.5 degrees as a threshold at which the effects of climate change, such as extreme heat and sea-level rise, become life-threatening for tens of millions of people. Sometimes sitting this far from a coast those threats can seem distant for us in Minnesota.
Understanding that our state bird could abandon Minnesota under predicted climate change scenarios could help the problem hit home a bit more.
Next time you hear the call of a loon, let it also be a call to action.