Congressional panel, meeting atop N.H. mountain, is told: ‘We need action’

FRANCONIA, N.H. – Milder winters and ho-hum foliage. Lousy ski conditions and curtailed logging operations. “Hundred-year floods” that occur every couple of years and weather patterns that make north woods feel like South Carolina.

Convening on a mountaintop for a summit on climate change, a congressional committee heard dire warnings Monday about the impact of global warming on New England’s way of life.

“Unless you want to buy your maple syrup on your fall foliage tour of Canada, we need some action,” said Timothy Perkins, director of the University of Vermont’s Proctor Maple Research Center.

The U.S. House’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming hearing was held atop 4,180-foot Cannon Mountain, requiring all to ride an aerial tram to the lodge where it was held.

Five witnesses implored Congress to take steps to address global warming before it melts the region’s winter sports economy, causes “forest migration” and wallops an economy built up around tourism.

Over the past 31 years, annual snowfall has dropped as much as 30 inches across New England, with a bigger percentage of precipitation falling as rain, according to Cameron Wake of the University of New Hampshire’s Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space.

There are 15 to 25 fewer days with snow on the ground each winter, and rivers and lakes ice over later and thaw earlier, Wake said.

“This is not climate change of the future. This is already happening,” he told the panel.

New Hampshire has endured three 100-year floods in two years, causing $35 million in damage to roads, bridges and private property and lost lives, said Alice Chamberlin, an adviser to Gov. John Lynch.

Outdoorsman Bill Koury said the damage is there for all to see.

Ticks are active later in the season for lack of cold, turkey vultures – which once ventured no further north than Connecticut – are now a common sight and bluefish are making their way into Maine and New Hampshire waters, he said.

“I’m not a scientist, and these are subjective observations,” said Koury, 64, of Atkinson. “But I think the term ‘global warming’ doesn’t do justice to the changes that are occurring.”

Vermont’s $200 million maple sugar industry has already felt the pinch, and could be wiped out if temperatures continue to rise, Perkins said.

The sugar season – when the sap starts running, before being boiled to make pancake syrup – now starts eight days earlier than it did 40 years ago, and ends 11 days sooner, he said.

Left unchecked, climate change could replace Vermont’s maple forests with oak, hickory and other trees that like warm weather better, he said.

“It’s scary how rapidly it’s all happening,” said Drea Kasianchuk, 18, of Conway. She was among a dozen students from Kennett High School who trekked halfway up to the fog-shrouded peak – about 2,000 feet – to the hearing, carrying “Patriotism is green” placards.

A cross-country skier, Kasianchuk has noticed successively milder, drier winters in the last few years.

“We can’t wait. It’s important to the daily lives of people in New Hampshire,” she said.

“We already know that if we don’t cut global warming pollution, we may need to rename Glacier National Park because one day there may be no glaciers,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the panel. “Now, it appears we may also have to one day rename the White Mountains, because there may be no snow.”

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