CLAIM

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ webpage regarding climate change’s potential effects on the Great Lakes was scrubbed of references to the word ‘climate’.

TRUE

RATING

TRUE

ORIGIN

In a 26 December 2016 op-ed published by the digital newspaper Urban Milwaukee, environmental writer James Rowen reported that a section of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) web site, originally titled “Climate Change and Wisconsin’s Great Lake,” had been substantially altered:

Gone are references to known “human activities” contributing to a warming planet, warming’s contributions to changes in rainfall and snowfall patterns, extreme weather events, drought, species and economic losses are among other truths whitewashed off this official, taxpayer-financed website.

This assertion was easily verified by viewing an archived copy of the web site from 30 October 2016, which read:

Earth´s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat–trapping (“green house”) gases are the main cause. Earth´s average temperature has increased 1.4 °F since 1850 and the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. Increasing temperatures have led to changes in rainfall patterns and snow and ice cover. These changes could have severe effects on the Great Lakes and the plants, wildlife and people who depend on them. While no one can predict exactly what climate change will mean for our Great Lakes, scientists agree that the following changes are likely if climate change patterns continue.

Increased summer and winter temperatures will cause increased evaporation, lower lake water levels and warmer water, resulting in reduced habitat for cold water species and a loss of critical wetland areas.

Decreased winter ice cover will also contribute to increased evaporation and lower lake water levels which could have severe economic consequences for our valuable shipping industry, lakeshore recreation, and coastal businesses.

Changes in rain and snowfall patterns (including more frequent and severe storms) could change water flow in streams and rivers and increase stream bank erosion and runoff pollution.

The good news is that we can all work to slow climate change and lessen its effects. To find out more about climate change and how we can all help, please visit the following links.

As of this writing, the Wisconsin DNR page in question (whose title is now “The Great Lakes and a Changing World”) reads as follows:

As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The effects of such a change are also being debated but whatever the causes and effects, the DNR’s responsibility is to manage our state’s natural resources through whatever event presents itself; flood, drought, tornadoes, ice/snow or severe heat. The DNR staff stands ready to adapt our management strategies in an effort to protect our lakes, waterways, plants, wildlife and people who depend on them.

Indeed, even uses of the word “climate” unattached to the word “change” were removed from the page, and inserted in their place were not-so-subtle statements that play to the talking points of those who deny an anthropogenic (i.e., man-made) component to Earth’s warming climate.

Responding to our request for comment, Wisconsin DNR Communications Director James F Dick stated that their office’s official position is that the science is not settled and that the page was updated to reflect this view:

As we do from time to time with other website pages, we updated this web page, which had not been updated in several years. The updated page reflects our position on this topic that we have communicated for years, that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics. Our agency must be ready to respond to each of these challenges. Adaptation has been our position on this topic.

As you know the causes and effects of any changes in climate are still being debated and research on the matter is being done in academic circles outside DNR. It should be noted that we included links on this page to UW-Madison programs that include climate change in their research.

The overwhelming scientific consensus from the climatological community is that the climate is indeed warming and that human activity is contributing to that process.