Outdoor living, sport and game enthusiasts talk climate change at Kora Sportsmen Expo

Apr. 13—LEWISTON — The Kora Shrine Temple at 11 Sabattus St. held its annual Sportsmen Expo on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The expo featured local businesses and organizations catering to anglers, hikers, hunters, trappers and other outdoor sports and game enthusiasts. Several experts held seminars and demonstrations for the community including gun safety, ATV safety, trapping, foraging, fire building, engaging children in the outdoors, taste testing and kayak rigging.

With warmer winters and increased rains and flooding, the Sun Journal asked several of those who spend more time than any in the outdoors how climate change is affecting the wild. The consensus among all for the most impactful general changes, climate change-driven or not, were an increase in turkeys, ticks and rain, higher winter temperatures, and earlier ice-out periods. An ice-out is when the ice on a body of water has melted to no more than 10% of surface area.

Kate Wentworth, Maine’s famed “Naked and Afraid” contender from season 10 on the Discovery Channel, has lived off-grid for 13 years on her 18-acre plot of land just north of Bangor. At the expo, she shared some of her fruits and labors homesteading her land through her business Bear Hand Necessities.

Climate change is something, no matter the cause, that has been happening for years and has thus become a focal point for the masses, Wentworth said.

“I’m definitely seeing there are changes out there. Our winters are a lot more different, we’re getting a lot more rain, we just had an earthquake the other day,” Wentworth said, then laughed. “I’ve been all over the world … and I believe there are too many humans on the planet.”

Mindfulness of the outdoors and recognition that throwaway culture is unsustainable is what seems to lend to the off-grid lifestyle many are seeking today. It’s leading to more respect of the outdoors, although Wentworth said she hopes many take pause with the electric vehicle craze, which she said is driving the practice of precious metals mining.

“Off-grid living is trending and there are (reasons) for that,” Wentworth said. “It’s hard work, very labor intensive, but I’m self sufficient, self-reliant and I’m teaching people how to live off the land. Everything is zero-waste, here. Living my lifestyle is like ‘back to the basics.'”

Wentworth said other than the obvious volatile weather we’ve seen the past couple years, there isn’t much changing that is noticeable.

“We are seeing different types of wildlife. The migration patterns, not just here in Maine, but we’re seeing animals coming back in general,” she said. Wolves and mountain lions, apparently rare or nonexistent for years, are definitely present, she said.

Christi Holmes, guide and founder of Maine Women Hunters, and Master Maine Guide Tenley Skolfield said the obvious signs of climate change are the early ice-outs and shortened ice fishing seasons. Holmes said flood waters have forced trappers to make adjustments they’re not used to and hunters to navigate grounds differently.

“The turkeys are strutting earlier … winter’s not killing ticks,” Holmes said. “We had a wet summer, really high waters, and too much soil saturation, for sure … Good year for mushrooms, though.”

Skolfield said the problem with climate change is that “we read data, but it’s often in a very compressed timeframe and very specific in focus.” However, outdoor sports and game enthusiasts, hikers and guides and the like are “out there, boots on the ground all the time.”

Skolfield used to keep track of ice-out dates in a portion of northern Maine, and Eagle Lake in Aroostook County has been trending earlier and earlier over the past five to eight years. However, old logs from the area showed trends down and then back up.

“But if it trends like that and it never cycles back, then we have a problem,” Skolfield said. “It’s been very consistently earlier. All I know is snow is now mushy, not dry anymore, and the irony was that the lightest and driest snow we got was one of the latest snowstorms. I miss the dry snow and that only comes when it’s cold. So, who knows if we’re truly, truly going through climate change or if we’re having these cycles.”

Mary Howes from the Androscoggin Land Trust said her organization is seeing the effects of climate change throughout the 5,300-acre preserve. The many storms and flooding western Maine has had in just one to two years’ time is for sure changing access and reshaping the landscapes ALT preserves for hunters and hikers, she said.

“Many who visit our lands mention climate change and want to make sure we’re staying on top of it,” Howes said. “Obviously, there’s nothing we can do ourselves, but we try to stay educated and educate people who follow us and visit … We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to get outdoors and to be able to hike some lands and most of the lands are open to hunting. We really conserve the land for people to use. And we’re always looking to conserve more.”

Fisherman Ryan Dubay of Poland said climate change won’t be very evident in freshwater fish because most species adhere to the solar cycle rather than water temperatures. Where climate change is extremely evident is in saltwater fishing, Dubay said, using black sea bass as an example.

“Just a few years ago, there were no black sea bass in New Hampshire,” Dubay said. “I know the guy who gets the state record every year because they just keep going (further north) and now they’re coming into Maine. We don’t even have regulations, here. That’s a big thing. But temperatures for freshwater fish? It’d have to be a huge temperature change.”

The Expo will continue Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Kora Shrine Temple at 11 Sabattus St.