American Pika Gets Another Shot at Endangered Status

Doug Von Gausig

The American pika can only survive within a narrow temperature band and can suffer heat stroke at temperatures as mild as 80 degrees.

The California Fish and Game Commission is asking for public input on the status of the American pika. The small, alpine mammal has been at the center of a prolonged debate over whether to list it under the Endangered Species Act. If the pika ultimately wins endangered status it would be the first species to do so with climate change cited as a major factor contributing to its decline. The Center for Biological Diversity originally petitioned for the pika to receive protected status, considering it to be a bellwether for climate change in California.

Matt Weiser recaps the the pika saga for the Sacramento Bee:

“In 2009, the state Fish and Game Commission considered and rejected protecting the pika under the California Endangered Species Act. At the time, there was limited evidence that pika numbers in the Sierra Nevada and elsewhere were shrinking due to climate change.

Subsequent research, however, provided some clues that, in fact, the pika’s habitat was shrinking upward as lower reaches of its range warmed, resulting in population losses in the Bodie and Lassen regions. The environmental group Center for Biological Diversity argued that the state should conduct a new status review, and then filed suit when it did not.

A San Francisco Superior Court judge agreed in February 2011, leading to the status review now under way. The Department of Fish and Game is now seeking comments from the public and experts on pika ecology, biology, life history, distribution, abundance, threats, essential habitat and recommendations for management.”

Scientists have been divided over whether the critter is a legitimate candidate for listing. Climate Watch has been keeping an eye on the pika’s plight for several years, with blog posts and radio stories dating back to 2009.