Global warming: California may list pikas as endangered

A pika near Aspen, Colorado. PHOTO BY KIM FENSKE.

The alpine mammals are quickly disappearing from marginal low-elevation habitat

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Pikas in Colorado may be holding their own at high elevations, but in California, the alpine mammals are quickly disappearing from areas like Mt. Lassen and the Bodie Hills as their habitat succumbs to global warming.

As a result, the  California Fish and Game Commission last week voted to designate the American pika as a  candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, marking the first step toward full protection for the animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity first asked California to protect pikas in 2007, but the commission denied the petition twice, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the species is threatened by global warming.

Conservation groups challenged the commission in court, forcing the commission to go back and take another look at threats to the species.

“An ever-growing body of scientific studies clearly shows that global warming is big trouble for the pika,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. .”

“Climate change has real consequences to wildlife right here in California, not just polar bears in the Arctic,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. “We’re heartened that the commission has finally decided to take the plight of the pika seriously.”

Since 2007 the evidence that the pika is threatened by climate change has increased. As temperatures have risen, pikas have largely disappeared in the warmer, lower-elevation regions of California.

Just across the California border, pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and southern Oregon are disappearing and shifting upslope at accelerating rates, including a five-fold increase in the rate of local extinction and an eleven-fold increase in the rate of upslope range retraction in the past 10 years. These losses have been linked to rising temperatures and loss of snowpack due to climate change. Three separate studies found that global warming will virtually eliminate habitat for the pika in California in this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced.

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