The American pika has begun a long-delayed journey toward possible listing under the Endangered Species Act. It could become the first mammal in the Lower 48, let alone California, to be listed as specifically threatened by global warming.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed today to review the petition, as part of a court settlement with San Francisco’s Center for Biological Diversity.
Under the settlement, negotiated by lawyers with Earthjustice, the agency commits to a May deadline for determining whether the cartoon-cute alpine critter merits consideration for federal protection.
Pika live in rock colonies only at high elevation (usually above 9,000 feet, though some have been documented lower). They’re well insulated against the harsh mountain environment but can suffer heat stroke at temperatures approaching 80 F.
As alpine temperatures increase with global warming, conservationists worry that the pika will be driven further upslope and eventually out of existence.
Back in the fall of 2007, CBD petitioned for listing under both the federal and California ESA’s. The feds more or less ignored the request. California turned it down flat, saying there was insufficient data to warrant a review. There was also some sentiment on the commission that using global warming as a basis for listing any species would be setting an uncomfortable precedent. CBD sued both agencies and the California case is still in court.
Not all scientists are convinced that the pika’s in trouble. Find out why in our Climate Watch radio feature, Monday morning on The California Report. Listen to the story here.
By the way, “boulder bunny” is a fairly accurate description. They may look like rodents but pika are actually relatives of rabbits and hares.
[audio:http://www.kqed.org/.stream/anon/climatewatch/pika1.mp3]Audio recording provided by Doug Von Gausig and NatureSongs.com