Listing would have been first based solely on global warming impacts
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal biologists last week said the American pika is not immediately threatened by climate change as they ruled against putting the small Alpine mammal on the endangered species list.
“American pika can tolerate a wider range of temperatures and precipitation than previously thought,” the biologists wrote. “We have determined that climate change is not a threat at the species- or the subspecies-level now or in the foreseeable future.”
There was keen interest in the ruling because the pika would have been the first animal listed because of direct threats from global warming. Conservation groups asked for the listing because pikas live in a small niche of Alpine habitat that could shrink drastically as air temperatures increase. In parts of the intermountain west, pika populations have already declined dramatically.
Some of the groups involved in the petitioning process expressed disappointment with the decision and said the federal government underestimated the threat. The groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and EarthJustice, would not rule out a lawsuit to force the federal government to reconsider.
Under most of the global warming models, temperatures across the West are expected increase by up to 5 degrees by mid-century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency responsible for administering endangered species, studied the animals carefully and determined that, while some local populations may be wiped out, there’s will remain enough habitat to ensure the pika’s survival, at least for the next 40 years.
The biologists said they didn’t consider the pika’s fate beyond 2050 because of too many variabilities in the climate change forecasts. The agency will continue to monitor pikas and reconsider the decision if new data shows the animals are losing ground.
Scientists studies 22 pika sites across the west, and concluded that temperatures will rise high enough at about half of them to endanger those local populations — but only at lower elevations, with enough high altitude refuges remaining to keep them viable.
Some local pika populations may have already been extirpated, according to research compiled by the World Wildlife Fund.
Pikas are related to rabbits and may have a role as ecosystem engineers on a localized level at edge of boulder fields because of their extensive haying activities, cutting, drying and storing grass as a food source during the long winters.
American pikas may act as ’ecosystem engineers’ at talus margins because of their extensive haying activities. Since food is difficult to obtain in winter in the alpine environment, pikas cut, sun-dry, and later store vegetation for winter use in characteristic ’haypiles’ above a rock in talus areas.
View the window below to read about a pika study near Telluride.
Filed under: Environment, global warming, public lands, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | conservation, endangered species, Endangered Species List, Environment, global warming, pika, Rocky Mountains, US Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife