Climate change lures skunks, moose to the Arctic

Warmer temperatures also wreaking havoc with building foundations


The distinctively unpleasant odor of skunk is about the last thing you might expect to smell in the Eastern Hudson Bay community of Kuujjuaraapik.

Yet Lucassie Inukpuk, the mayor of Kuujjuaraapik, has spotted several black and white skunks lurking around the town.

“We’ve never seen these before,” Inukpuk said.

Skunks aren’t the only unfamiliar animals making their way up the tree line along the Great Whale River.

Moose, who favour swampy, treed areas with lots of vegetation to eat, have also been seen around Kuujjuaraapik.

Quebec’s department of the environment says it’s not out of the question for moose or skunks to roam as far north as Kuujjuraapik.

But multiple observations of these unfamiliar animals this past summer may be another sign of rising temperatures along the 55th parallel – similar to sightings of unfamiliar birds and insects further north.

Jerry Dragoo, a noted expert on skunks at the Univ. of New Mexico, said the skunks could have been expanding their range due to the impact of global warming on their habitat.

That’s because skunks don’t like to be cold, although Dragoo said they can tolerate it. When the temperatures drop, skunks go into a deep sleep or torpor, although they will come out occasionally to feed.

Dragoo said they wouldn’t enjoy waking up to frigid temperatures.

“They’re not like polar bears, but if they have the body fat and resources they could handle it. In the den, they would be insulated from the frigid cold,” Dragoo said in a telephone interview.

Next spring will tell if Kuujjuaraapik’s new skunk population can flourish along the Hudson Bay coast.

“They may not survive this year,” Dragoo said. “But who knows? In the future you may be seeing them more frequently.”

Average temperatures in Kuujjuaraapik, where it hit 37°C on July 12, 2005, have been rising and sizzling summer temperatures have become common. Kuujjuaraapik, breaking its previous record high for that date of 28.3°C set in 1998, was the hottest place in Quebec that day.

These temperatures were much higher than the normal of 15°C.

Maximum and minimum temperatures have also been running above normal this year as Kuujjuaraapik holds on to the upward trend of temperatures established between 1975 and 2001. The years 1998 to 2001 were particularly warm, being about 1.5 to 4°C above the long-term average.

The rise in average temperatures is also visibly affecting other Nunavik communities, such as Salluit to the north, and Kuujjuaq to the east.

In Salluit, where effects to house foundations, roads and the airstrip have been noted, the local fire hall has also buckled, making the entire structure unsafe. The plan is to dismantle the fire hall and rebuild it in a more stable location.

In Kuujjuaq, where vegetation becomes more lush by every year, temperatures above 20°C were recorded this year into the middle of September.

Workers in government offices and now even residents are responding to the warmer conditions – not by changing their range, but by altering their habitat, by equipping themselves with air conditioners.

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