American Pika Advances Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 
Greg Loarie or Brian Smith, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301; cell (415) 385-5746

American Pika Advances Toward Endangered Species Act Protection

Small Alpine Mammal Imperiled by Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO -
The
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced that it is launching a
full status review to determine whether the American pika, a small,
alpine-dwelling relative of the rabbit that is imperiled by global
warming, warrants
the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
 
The decision comes in response to a scientific
petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity in October
2007 seeking protection for the species, followed by an August 2008
lawsuit against the Service for failing to respond to
the petition.
 
The decision, which will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow, is available here: http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/pika-90-day.pdf
 

American pika (National Park Service)
 
As a result of today’s decision, the pika will
become the first mammal considered for protection under the Act due to
global warming in the continental United States outside of Alaska.  The
Service’s decision comes under court order 16 months
after the legal deadline. The Service is now required to decide whether
the pika will be designated as an endangered species by February 1,
2010.
 
"We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service
has decided to take the pika's plight seriously," said Greg Loarie, an
attorney with Earthjustice, which is representing the Center in the
case. "The pika’s shrinking habitat is a harbinger
of what may happen to many species if we don’t address global warming
now.”
 
In related news involving the pika, San Francisco
Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ruled from the Bench on April 16, 2009
that the California Fish and Game Commission violated state law when it
rejected last spring a petition authored by
the Center for Biological Diversity to list pika as threatened or
endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The ruling will
send the state pika petition back to the Commission for reconsideration.
 
The American pika (Ochotona princeps) lives
in boulder fields near mountain peaks in 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,
lowering food availability in the mountain meadows where they forage,
reducing the amount of time when they can gather food,
and reducing the insulating snowpack during winter.
 
Rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas
pollution have already led to dramatic losses of lower-elevation pika
populations. More than a third of documented pika populations in the
Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have gone
extinct in the past century as temperatures warm, and those that remain
are found an average of 900 feet further upslope. According to climate
experts, temperatures in the western United States in this century will
increase at least twice as much as they did
in the past century. This could eliminate the pika from large regions
of the American West.
 
“As temperatures rise, pika populations at lower
elevations are being driven to extinction, pushing pikas further
upslope until they have nowhere left to go,” said Shaye Wolf, a
biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pikas
are in urgent need of the protections of the federal and state
Endangered Species Acts, which have a proven track record of success in
protecting imperiled wildlife.”
 
In the 90-day finding, the Service agreed that global warming threatens the pika, stating:
 
“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. …Therefore, we find that the
petitioner presents substantial information to indicate that listing
the American pika may be warranted as a threatened or endangered
species due to the present or threatened destruction, modification,
or curtailment of its range due to impacts attributed to climate
change.”
 
Pika Facts:
 
  • Pikas live in boulder fields surrounded by meadows on mountain
    peaks. They avoid the summer heat by seeking the cool crevices under
    the boulders and by remaining inactive during warm periods.
  • Pikas
    do not hibernate during the long, cold, snowy winters at high
    elevations, but remain under boulder piles protected by their dense,
    insulating coat of fur. The dense coat that protects them in winter
    makes them vulnerable to heat stroke during the
    summer months.
  • Pikas spend summers diligently gathering
    flowers and grasses and store them in “haypiles” for food to sustain
    them through the long winters. These “boulder bunnies,” which weigh
    only a third of a pound, must collect more than 60 pounds of vegetation
    to
    survive the winter.
  • Pikas are not only threatened by rising
    temperatures in the summer, but also by the loss of the insulating
    snowpack in the winter, which leaves them exposed to cold snaps.
 
 
Photo and Video:
High-resolution photo available for print stories here:
 
B-roll available for broadcast. View lo-res version here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpJ2Q63GC3M
Contact Brian Smith, Earthjustice press office, (510) 550-6714

 

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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