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Scientists: Nasty pests get boost from climate change

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Nasty species like deer ticks and poison ivy may proliferate inside their current range and spread into new areas as carbon dioxide levels increase and climate change continues into the future.

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That's the finding of a new report released Thursday by the National Wildlife Federation -- just in time to push support for climate change legislation expected soon in the U.S. Senate. The U.S. House already has passed climate legislation.

While climate change skeptics say the current warming trend may be natural and not caused by humans, and that many crops and species may benefit in a warming world, the new report shows "some of the nastiest and most unpleasant species we have may benefit the most," said Doug Inkley, lead scientist for the National Wildlife Federation.

Deer ticks, for example, already endemic in parts of the Northland, are projected to move north and west as warmer winters fail to slow their march. The ticks can spread Lyme disease.

And poison ivy, the plant that causes itchy rashes to picnickers and campers, is expected to grow faster and even cause more itching. Experiments that exposed poison ivy plants to carbon dioxide levels expected in the future showed the plants nearly doubled their growth thanks to increased C02.

"And they got more toxic," Inkley said in a national press conference Thursday.

In other parts of the U.S., pests like the mountain pine beetle, fire ants and Asian tiger mosquito already have expanded their range during warm decades well beyond their historic areas.

"People often think of climate change as some far away problem having to do only with polar bears and ice caps," said Patty Glick, global warming specialist for the National Wildlife Federation. "The reality is that climate change impacts are being seen and felt in backyards around the country."

The Senate is could consider climate legislation sponsored by Senators John Kerry, D-Mass., Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn, sometime after the holiday recess.

The report is available at www.nwf.org/invasion.

John Myers is a reporter at the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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