What is one of the fastest ways for an outdoor column to get ensnared in political debate? The answer is: whenever you talk about the weather, more specifically climate change. In fact I've found this to be even more controversial than discussing cats.
I wanted to make that point out of the gate because in this day and age, people across the political spectrum get their panties in a major wad over something that just a few years ago was primarily a matter of scientific measurement and computer modeling, liberally seasoned with arcane folk predictions.
Let's just say this: whatever your personal position on climate change, I completely agree with your concerns.
But, quite frankly, I don't care to hear them.
Anyway, the topic at hand is our incredibly early spring and its implications on the outdoor world where we hunt, fish and conduct other sporting business.
It's been crazy. Two weeks ago while at the Indianapolis Boat, Sport and Travel Show, I had several people show me pictures of nice fish they caught during the 70-degree days of February and there was even one semi-credible report of a morel mushroom being found in Pike County.
It's not so much that our temperatures reached those summer-like levels, because that happens nearly every year. I remember a couple of years ago when I was sitting on the patio in shorts, a t-shirt and no shoes in mid-March when the 7 p.m. temperature was still 82 degrees.
However, within two weeks things were back to normal and though that following summer was drier and hotter than average, the overall seasonal changes were pretty typical. That's doesn't appear to be the case this year.
According to United States Geological Survey (USGS) Remote Sensing Phrenology program that measures such things, spring is officially running about two or three weeks early. If things keep going at their present rate, I'd wager it's going to end up even earlier.
According to their scientific research, the "green line" of sprouting vegetation has reached the Ohio River. We'll conduct personal research on that claim next week, but I will say that over a week ago I noticed several local willow trees that actually had small green leaves sprouted. Currently, we have daffodils and crocus flowers dotting our yard.
It's crazy, but is this climate change? Probably, even though we must point out that wild extremes are a hallmark of...wait for it...the weather. We also agree that these changes are possibly man-made but before we start all start defending our political positions on the subject, I would like to remind folks that in the 1960's we were concerned about being dead by the year 2000 because of "Global Cooling."
It seems kind of silly now but many scientists and "experts" were highly convinced we'd be playing ice hockey in July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I'd just like to point out that in spite of our "knowing," weather and climate change continually so the best bet is to just take things as they come.
Regardless, certain trends are likely in regards to our upcoming outdoor season. It will likely stay warmer than normal, ushering in a fast, early spring while the summer is shaping up to be hot and dry. Again, nothing is guaranteed but a smart person should consider the impact of these predictions on their favorite activities.
That's why I'm keeping the fishing gear close at hand for quick deployment, planning on an early but shorter paddling season, an equally poor mushroom season and a hot summer with low water and slow fishing. I'm also not planning any camping or hiking in July and August, but then again, I try to avoid that anyway.
One big concern is the effect of this weather on plants. Based upon my college training in botany (one of the few things that actually 'took') native plants will be fine. If you notice, most vegetation that is native to our area is still quite dormant because it evolved to survive such weather extremes. Even a killer frost that blackens those early leaves or completely wipes out the blooms isn't too detrimental to indigenous plants. In fact, most can survive three such episodes without long-lasting harm.
Our native animals also evolved to deal with hot and cold or wetness and drought. For example, even though the creeks might be very low in mid-summer, the chances of harming the fishery are pretty slim. Actually, a bigger factor for many stream fish is a wet spring that wipes out nests due to high water.
In other words, enjoy the warm weather and early fishing, get ready for a hot summer and remember the one certain that I can guarantee about climate: if you don't like the weather now, just wait around for five minutes.
It will change.
Brent T. Wheat is an award-winning columnist, and publisher of WildIndiana.com. His column appears weekly in The Times.