updated 3/6/2006 11:05:44 AM ET 2006-03-06T16:05:44

Requests for emergency aid usually follow natural disasters like floods or prolonged drought. But an unusually mild winter in Maine is prompting one county to ask for state and federal assistance.

Piscataquis County relies on tourism for its economy, but the mild weather has taken a bite out of its usual winter snowmobiling business and the income that it brings.

Bill Lett of Victory Motorsports in Abbot said snowmobile sales are down 50 percent.

At the Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, which sells boots, jackets and hats to keep snowmobilers warm on the trails, owner Craig Watt said the store has lost 9,000 customers since last year.

County and town officials are asking for state and federal aid in the form low-interest loans and business counseling to prevent business owners from going into debt.

They plan to meet with Gov. John Baldacci sometime during the next few weeks to make their case for aid for the region.

Global warming cited
Changing weather patterns are nothing new in New England, but some scientists say the region is growing steadily warmer — a trend that has implications for traditional businesses ranging from logging to maple sugaring.

"There is no debate among anyone that we are seeing our overall global climate warming, and that is having a profound effect in terms of winters here," said Barry Rock, of the University of New Hampshire's Center of the Study of Complex Systems.

Rock and his colleagues have studied the potential impact of rising temperatures on certain industries.

Average temperatures in the Northeast have increased by almost two degrees between 1899 and 2000 and the growing season has increased by eight days, according to another UNH researcher.

These effects may be felt first by the maple syrup industry, which could disappear from New Hampshire in this century, according to Rock's 2001 study.

"There is speculation that a warm winter can change the metabolism in the trees, but there has been no research to back this up," said Sumner Dole, a forest educator with UNH's Cooperative Extension.

In Maine, the changing weather is confusing maple syrup producers, who had a poor season last year. Some say they were tempted to tap their trees during the spring-like weather that marked much of the winter.

Normally, warmer days and cold nights get the sap running in late February or early March, and the season lasts until the trees bud in April. If the trees are tapped too late producers can miss the best sap. If they tap too early, the holes will dry up or close before most of the sap flows.

Loggers, skiers confused
Northern New England loggers also suffer in warmer winters because they need frozen ground to move heavy equipment into the woods to harvest lumber.

Arthur Cutter, a New Hampshire logger, says the fall rains and generally warm winter made this his worst season ever.

"I'm hoping it's a short-term thing, but it seems like the winters aren't coming like they used to," Cutter said.

Ski areas were blessed with snow in December but suffered from a rainy start to 2006. Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and ice-fishing derbies all have taken a hit this year.

The restaurant and lodging industry estimates a 20 percent drop in profit this winter, according to Drew Drummond, an industry spokesman.

Farmers have suffered as well. Unusually heavy spring rains delayed the planting of many crops last year, triggering financial losses.

But New Hampshire apple grower Erick Leadbeater says he'd rather see temperatures go up rather than down.

"Not that I aspire to grow citrus, but a little bit warmer climate here would mean an easier time of growing some of the more delicate crops that now can only be grown as far north as southern New England," he said.

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