Lawsuit Filed Again Seeking California Endangered Species Act Protection for American Pika

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (951) 961-7972
Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

Lawsuit Filed Again Seeking California Endangered Species Act Protection for American Pika

SAN FRANCISCO - The
Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice, returned to state
court today seeking protection for the American pika under the California
Endangered Species Act due to threats from global warming. The conservation
groups are asking the court to intervene once again to overturn a second
improper decision by the California Fish and Game Commission to reject a
petition to protect the pika under the state law. The commission's decision has
blocked protection of the pika at the first stage of the listing
process.

"In denying the petition, the Fish
and Game Commission once again ignored the science showing that the pika is
being driven to the brink of extinction by global warming," said Kassie Siegel,
head of the Center's Climate Law Institute. "The state's continuing attempts to
deny the reality of the situation - that warming is threatening this animal with
oblivion - wastes precious time that should be spent protecting the pika and
other California
wildlife."

The California Fish and Game
Commission first rejected the Center's petition to protect the pika under the
California Endangered Species Act in April 2008, despite overwhelming scientific
evidence showing that the pika is imperiled by climate change in California. In a lawsuit
brought by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center, a California Superior Court
invalidated the state commission's decision in May 2009, ruling that it had used
the wrong legal standard when considering the petition. The commission must
accept a petition and begin a status review to determine whether the species
should be listed if the information presented would "lead a reasonable person to
conclude there is a substantial possibility" that the species could be listed.
However, the commission illegally demanded a higher burden of proof.

The
court's May decision ordered the state to reconsider the pika petition using the
proper legal standard. But the commission voted once again in June to reject the
petition without reconsidering the scientific information in light of the
correct standard. Today's lawsuit challenges this second improper rejection of
the petition.

"The court gave the commission a
second chance to do the right thing and protect this imperiled species, but the
commission persists in disregarding both science and the law," said Greg Loarie
of Earthjustice. "The plight of the pika is a warning to humans that global
warming is already changing our climate for the
worse."

Background

The American pika (Ochotona princeps) is a small relative of
the rabbit that lives in boulder fields near mountain peaks in California and through the western United
States. Adapted to cold alpine conditions,
pikas are intolerant of high temperatures and can die from overheating when
exposed to temperatures as low as 78 degrees Fahrenheit for just a few hours.
Global warming threatens pikas by exposing them to heat stress during the
summer, limiting the amount of time when they can gather food, and reducing the
insulating snowpack during winter exposing pikas to cold
extremes.

In rejecting the petition, the
commission ignored scientific evidence demonstrating the pika is threatened by
climate change in California. Evidence before the commission
includes a study in Yosemite National Park documenting an upslope range shift of
the pika over the past century as temperatures warmed; research showing that
pika populations have largely disappeared in California's Bodie Hills in the
eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in recent decades; and a study concluding that
global warming will virtually eliminate suitable habitat for the pika in
California in this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically
reduced http://www.earthjustice.org/assets/subject/objects/pikamap_lg.jpg.
Just across the California border, more than a
third of documented pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of northwest
Nevada and southern Oregon have gone extinct
in the past century, and these losses have been linked to rising temperatures.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
agreed that global warming threatens the pika after reviewing the same set of
scientific studies as the commission. In response to the Center's petition, the
Service determined in May 2009 that the pika may warrant the protections of the
federal Endangered Species Act due to threats from climate change, and launched
a full status review of the pika. In its May finding, the Service
stated: 

"Based on the results of these
empirical studies, along with predictions of declining climatic habitat
suitability, we find that the range of the American pika and the habitat within
the range are likely to decrease as surface temperatures
increase."

The commission has not followed
science or the law in other recent listing decisions. Last year a state appeals
court struck down a decision by the commission to deny a petition to list the
California tiger salamander under the state Endangered Species Act by
incorrectly claiming that the petition did not contain sufficient information.
The commission also recently voted to deny a petition to protect the Pacific
fisher, a rare mammal threatened by logging, but reversed its decision after a
public-records act request from the Center revealed that most state biologists
involved in the review had supported the petition.

For further information on the pika
visit: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/mammals/American_pika/index.html 

Photo and
video:

High-resolution photo available for
print stories here:

http://www.earthjustice.org/library/hi-res-pika-photo.html

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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