Ecosystems

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A (PDQ) PDO Primer

The term “PDO” is coming up more often in climate discussions. What it is and why it’s being bandied about are explained in this post from our content partners, Climate Central.

Surf along California's Mendocino Coast. Photo: Craig Miller

Surf along California's Mendocino Coast. Photo: Craig Miller

Did Someone Say “PDO”?

By Heidi Cullen, Phil Duffy and Claudia Tebaldi

Earlier this month, The New York Times ran a page-one story looking into why climatologists and TV meteorologists are at odds over global warming.

The article, which quoted one of the authors of this post, pointed out that while climate scientists almost universally agree that human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels, are warming up the planet, a significant percentage of TV meteorologists do not. In fact, a recent study from George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin showed that out of 571 TV meteorologists surveyed, only about half believed that global warming was happening and fewer than a third accepted the proposition that climate change was “caused mostly by human activities.” The survey also suggested that TV meteorologists view climate change as mostly a natural phenomenon.

Joe Bastardi, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, stands squarely in the natural causes camp, and he offered up his own explanation recently on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. On the comedy show, Bastardi said the global warming trend is just temporary and caused by a mix of volcanic activity, solar cycles, warmer ocean temperatures and specifically a natural climate pattern known as the “PDO” or Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Bastardi has provided a great opportunity to educate the public about climate change. And as climate scientists, we’d like to take a moment to talk about natural climate variability specifically.

The solar cycle and volcano arguments Bastardi gravitates toward are fascinating. But when it comes to climate change, these natural sources of climate variability are incapable of doing the heavy lifting. In fact, they’ve been raised, tested, and solidly laid to rest by the climate science community. Variations in solar output are too weak, and in any case repeat every 11 years, and so cannot explain a steady warming trend over 40+ years. As for the volcano argument, eruptions are also too puny. Globally,volcanoes, like Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano as well as those under the sea release a total of about 200 million tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 annually.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s trivial when compared to human activity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC), global fossil fuel CO2 emissions for 2003 tipped the scales at 26.8 billion tonnes—over 100 times more. Let’s just say human activity can bench press a whole lot more warming than the sun’s variations and volcanoes combined.

Before we move on to the role of the Pacific, we want to first thank Bastardi for daring to mention the phrase P-D-O on television. While geeks like us find the Pacific Decadal Oscillation fascinating, alphabet soup has a tendency to make the public’s eyes glaze over.

The PDO is just one of many natural oscillations in the climate system. It is characterized by a positive or “warm”  phase, and a negative or “cool” phase, which refer to the pattern of anomalies in sea surface temperatures and air pressure between the north central Pacific Ocean and the northeastern Pacific. The El Niño/La Nina cycle, for example, is another natural oscillation. Its period, about three-to-seven years, is shorter than the PDO’s, but in fact, the PDO is often thought of a slower version of El Niño, as some of the manifestations are similar.

Image: NOAA

For example, in the warm phase of the PDO, temperatures in the northwest region of North America tend to be warmer than average, while the southeastern U.S. tends to be cooler than average. Bastardi believes the warming trend (shown below) is only temporary because the phase in which the PDO has predominantly been at the same time, with its warmer than average tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures, is temporarily juicing the system. He forecasts the global temperature trend will dip back down once the PDO shifts back.

blog_monthlyPDOHere’s the problem. First and foremost, while the PDO is important in driving regional climate variations, it has no clear effect on global temperatures. And although the PDO was in its warm phase during the majority of the time from the mid 1970s to the present, it also shifted sharply in multiple instances (see chart), which is inconsistent with the steady global warming trend during the same period. For example, the decade from 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record globally, but the PDO was not positive throughout that period.

It has been said that the truth is stubborn. This idea gives climate scientists a small sense of relief in that eventually, the stubborn truth will be recognized; that the recent global warming trend is real and caused mostly by human activities.

References for this article are shown in the original post at Climate Central.

An Earth Day “Natural:” San Francisco’s Tree Census

San Francisco 5th-grader Benton Liang demonstrates how to add a tree to the Urban Forest Map (photo: Gretchen Weber)

San Francisco 5th-grader Benton Liang demonstrates how to add a tree to the Urban Forest Map. Photo: Gretchen Weber

A new online tool launched this week aims to enlist citizens to help catalog San Francisco’s trees.  The Urban Forest Map relies on the public, or “citizen scientists,” to observe their yards and neighborhoods and to add information to an online database that tracks  tree location, species, size, and health, throughout San Francisco.

The project’s creator, Amber Bieg, said that 17 different organizations and agencies in the city manage and track trees, but until now, they had no organized way to share information. “This map provides the ability to aggregate data in a new way,” said Bieg. “And it’s an affordable way to do an inventory because it uses citizen participation.”

Bieg developed the program with funding from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention (CAL FIRE). Created in cooperation with Friends of the Urban Forest and the City and County of San Francisco, the Urban Forest Map is designed to serve as a publicly accessible, centralized database that will help urban foresters and city planners better manage trees in specific areas, track and combat tree pests and diseases, and plan future tree plantings.

Creators also hope that climatologists will use to the tool to better understand the effects of urban forests on climate, and that students will get involved and use the map to learn about the role trees play in the urban ecosystem. “If you can’t count it, you can’t manage it,” said CAL FIRE urban forester John Melvin. “If the state is going to adapt to climate change, we’re going to have to expand and better manage our urban forests, and that starts with knowing what we have.”

Urban trees can help cities adapt to climate change by providing shade cover and by both mitigating and purifying storm water runoff, Melvin said. Studies have shown that a robust tree canopy can reduce the “urban heat island” effect by several degrees.

To underscore how easy the tool is to use, on Wednesday morning San Francisco 5th-grader Benton Liang demonstrated how to use to the software for a small crowd gathered in a small park at the foot of the Transamerica Building. In addition to providing an inventory, Bieg said, the map is also an educational tool.  The Urban Tree Key is a related interactive tool that helps citizen scientists identify common Northern California urban trees. The map’s software also allows users to calculate the benefits, such as energy savings and air quality, that a specific tree or category of trees provide using data from the Center for Urban Forests Research, said Bieg.

To learn more about the Urban Forest Map, watch a video from 2007 that KQED’s Quest made about the project.

Spring Comes Sooner, Some Species Suffer

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Spring in the United States comes ten days sooner than it did just 20 years ago, according to scientists on a media call Tuesday.   This phenomenon, known as “spring creep” (or “season creep“), may be good news for flip-flop fans, but it doesn’t always work out well for native species in certain habitats.  According to Reuters, scientists on the call (which was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists) explained that when spring comes earlier, it doesn’t just bring warm weather sooner — it actually throws off the balance of entire ecosystems by encouraging the spread of invasive species, many of which are better able to adapt to the changing conditions than are native plants and animals.  In the American West, warmer weather is already shrinking the habitat of the American pika, and more of it could make wildfires more frequent and intense.

Sea Otters May Lose Taxpayer Buoy

This is the second in a series of posts on recent developments at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its sister research institute.

A snoozing sea otter at Moss Landing. Photo: Craig Miller

A snoozing sea otter at Moss Landing. Photo: Craig Miller

An important source of funding for California Sea Otter research may be in jeopardy.

Since 2007, the California Sea Otter Fund has been one of several options for which state taxpayers could earmark money on their returns. That option may disappear. In order to maintain its slot on state tax forms, annual contributions need to attain a threshold set by the Franchise Tax Board. Lately, those donations have fallen about 25% short of the mark, currently set at more than $258,000. “It’s got to be the economy,” said Jim Curland, when I asked him if he could account for the lag. Curland works on marine programs for the non-profit Defenders of Wildlife, an organization that works closely with scientists investigating recent declines in the number of sea otters along the California coast. The otter fund competes with about a dozen other programs seeking donations on state tax forms.

Two California sea otters doze in the yacht basin at Moss Landing. Photo: Craig Miller

Water mummies: Two California sea otters doze in regal repose in the yacht basin at Moss Landing. Photo: Craig Miller

The Monterey Bay Aquarium spends about a million dollars per year on sea otter research, according to spokesman Ken Peterson, who notes that female otters in particular, have been in decline. Scientists are trying to fund tagging and tracking programs to better understand changes in sea otter populations. “Any money out there that helps get answers is critical to their survival,” he told me. The California sea otter is listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act and has “fully protected” status under the California Fish & Game Code.

Curland says proceeds from the tax form donations are split between the state’s Department of Fish & Game and the Coastal Conservancy, which has helped fund a key study off of Big Sur.

If you’re looking for the climate connection here, don’t strain for it. I’ll confess to just being a sucker for the cause. But there may be one. Wildlife biologists at the US Geological Survey (USGS) and UC Santa Cruz, have postulated that as custodians of giant kelp forests, the otters may help optimize carbon sequestration.

Curland says the next three months will be crucial for the fund, as donations trickle in from late filers.

NASA Looking More Earthward

Rachel Cohen is a Bay Area freelance writer, presently serving an internship with Climate Watch.

NASA's GRACE satellite is equipped to gather ice and water data on the Earth's surface. Image: NASA

NASA's GRACE satellite is equipped to gather ice and water data on the Earth's surface. Image: NASA

To boldly go–where we already live

By Rachel Cohen

NASA will likely be focusing more attention on the “pale blue dot” in coming years, with a reinvigorated Earth Science Program. California’s freshwater supply and sea level change are among the features that will be studied by replacing an aging satellite.

The proposed White House budget for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration includes billions of dollars for satellites and other tech tools to help scientists investigate Earth-bound problems, especially climate change. Part of the program will be steered from Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which will manage two key missions connected with the program. JPL spokesman Alan Buis says the White House support may provide stability for gathering the kind of long-term data sets needed to study gradual changes in earth systems.

As Jon Hamilton reports in his  story for NPR’s Morning Edition, the centerpiece of the program will be the GRACE satellite which will collect data critical for a variety of models and applications, including:

· The changing mass of polar ice caps
· Changes in water resources on land
· Shallow and deep ocean current transport mechanisms
· Sea level change resulting from ocean temperature and water mass changes
· Exchanges between the oceans and atmosphere
· Forces that generate Earth’s geomagnetic field, and
· Internal Earth forces that move tectonic plates and result in earthquakes and volcanic eruptions

GRACE has been in orbit since 2002 and is due to be replaced. NASA suffered a severe setback when its Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) satellite crashed after its launch early last year. The White House budget includes funding to rebuild the vehicle and relaunch in February of 2013. The OCO2 satellite is designed to measure carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, specifically comparing sources of CO2 to “sinks,” where it is stored.

Hope, Skepticism at Renewables Conference

One section of a solar-thermal array on display at UC Riverside. Thousands of these mirrors gather solar radiation to heat a synthetic oil, which drives electrical generation at huge desert facilities. Photo: Craig Miller

One section of a solar-thermal array on display at UC Riverside. Thousands of these mirrors gather solar radiation to heat a synthetic oil, which drives electrical generation at huge desert facilities. Photo: Craig Miller

Perhaps the most telling moment at the Governor’s Renewable Energy Policy Conference this week, was when the Governor’s own senior advisor on renewables, Michael Picker, asked for a show of hands. How many present, he wondered, actually thought that California would attain its goal of 33% renewable power by 2020. Amid the 370 or so gathered on the campus of UC Riverside, about a dozen hands went up. How many, he asked, thought we’d make it to 33% by 2050? Another dozen or so hands.

Bear in mind that this was a room containing some of the most knowledgeable people on the topic, from government, industry and environmental organizations. These were people invested in getting there, yet most seemed to doubt that we would.

Their pessimism was not entirely shared by the questioner. Picker told me afterward that he expected about 8,000 megawatts of new power to be approved by year-end. That’s approved, not necessarily financed. Solar arrays that generate 250 MW or more are considered large-scale operations.

Meanwhile, developers are pushing to get major projects approved before the year is out. To qualify for federal stimulus dollars, projects have to break ground this year and spend a certain percentage of project costs.

“It’s a hard state to develop in,” said Matt Handel, a vice president with NextEra Energy Resources. The Florida-based company is already a major player in both solar and wind generation in California, and Handel says the stimulus money is essential for two major new projects that NextEra has in mind for the southern California deserts.

“There is hope,” Handel told me. “It is difficult. There are a lot of constituencies out there pulling in different directions.”

Virtually all of those stakeholder groups were present in Riverside, in some form. Local (especially desert) communities, environmentalists, Indian tribes and representatives from federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service were there.

Identifying the most appropriate sites for large-scale wind and solar plants has been complicated by more than bureaucracy, said Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife. “The landscape we’re working in is already changing due to the effects of climate change, which presents a challenge as to which areas to protect,” said Delfino in a panel discussion.

Picker says he’s “not so sure” that the state is doing the best possible job of moving projects efficiently through the pipeline (to borrow a metaphor from the fossil fuels era), and he conceded that some developers will be left standing in line as the year-end deadline expires. But he calculated that if, over the next five years, 20% of the biggest projects on the drawing board can get approved, the state should make its 2020 goal.

(Some) Pika Persist at Low Elevations

Photo courtesy of the Forest Service.

Photo: US Forest Service

American Pika are living at lower elevations and surviving warmer temperatures than previously thought, according to a paper in the journal Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research (available for download at the US Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station’s site).

One of the authors, Connie Millar, said she saw pika far more often and in a broader elevation range than she had expected she would. Millar, a Forest Service ecologist, found all those pika using a method she developed to quickly determine if pika are living in places where one would expect to find them.

Pika, cute little rabbit relatives that live in high elevations throughout the West, have been in the news lately. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned for the pika to be listed under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2007, citing climate change as a threat to survival of the cold-adapted species. Last month, under a new administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to protect the pika, explaining that though some populations do seem to be in trouble, most are doing fine so far. (Climate Watch has followed the pika story; see previous posts here, here, and here).

This newest study would seem to support the federal decision. But Shaye Wolf, staff biologist with the CBD, says that though the study “provides a snapshot of where pika are now, long-term in-depth studies have found that pika populations are declining.”

The majority of those declining populations are in Nevada’s Great Basin, at relatively low elevations for pika colonies. One paper Wolf cites was recently published in Ecological Applications. Authors Erik Beever and Chris Ray concluded that shrinking pika populations in the Great Basin could be partially attributed to climate change. Pika have an extremely narrow band of temperature tolerance and can suffer heat stroke in temperatures comfortable to humans.

Wolf and Millar are both members of the California Pika Consortium, a newly formed research group. Millar plans to distribute her pika survey to colleagues in the consortium in order to continue gathering data on locations of pika colonies.

Meanwhile, even though the Fish and Wildlife Service has denied federal protection to the pika, CBD is still working on gaining state-level protection in California. CBD biologists consider the pika to be a bellwether species for climate change.

Mapping California’s Shifting Climate

By Gretchen Weber & Molly Samuel

A companion radio piece to this post aired on The California Report.

Map from The Nature Conservancy showing projected drought conditions for 2070-2100

Projected drought conditions for 2070-2100 (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Climate change is causing conservationists to rethink traditional methods of protecting lands and ecosystems. The conventional strategy of setting aside a specific parcel of land (and increasingly, ocean) to protect a particular community of organisms may no longer be sufficient in a rapidly changing climate. While greenhouse gas reduction and climate change mitigation remains a top priority for most conservationists, land managers have begun developing adaptation strategies that take the effects of a warming planet into account.

“We have a fantastic conservation success story in having conserved a huge network of protected areas,” says Healy Hamilton, director of the Center for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences. “The issue with those protected areas is that they all have static boundaries around them and they work to protect what lies within them,  So the plants and animals that are there are well-protected, as long as they stay there.” Trouble is, the habitat isn’t staying put.

Climate has “Velocity”

The world’s ecosystems will need to move about a quarter of a mile each year to keep up with climate change, according to a recent study published in Nature (link is to the first paragraph of the paper; the full article is only available to subscribers, but you can read a press release about the about the study).

Researchers from the Carnegie Institution, Stanford, the California Academy of Sciences, and UC Berkeley collaborated on the paper, which describes climate belts sweeping north and south from the equator–and also moving uphill–as the world warms.

Hamilton, who co-authored the study, told a packed house at the Center for Biological Diversity in January, that “Climates are on the move. It’s not just a slow unfolding, it’s a radical, abnormal process. Everywhere we look, shifts are already occurring.”

And under these changing conditions, she said, plants and animals have three choices: “They can stay and adapt, they can shift with their climate, or they can go locally extinct if they can’t move fast enough.”

The study’s lead author, Scott Loarie, a fellow at the Carnegie Institution, explains that climate change forecasts are commonly measured in degrees per year, but the authors of this study wanted to know how those temperature changes would affect what can live where. So they used temperature “velocity” (in kilometers per year) to measure how fast regional climate conditions are moving as the planet heats up.

It turns out that the belts move at different rates, depending on the landscape. In the Amazon Basin, velocity is relatively high. It’s a large and homogeneous ecosystem, so as the temperature changes there, plants and animals will have to travel a long way to keep up with the climate in which they’ve evolved to thrive. In a place like California, with its microclimates and variable topography, the velocity is lower. Some species may need merely to migrate to a nearby north-facing–and therefore cooler–slope. Others will have to head north and toward the coast. Climate models forecast that eventually the Bay Area will look more like Southern California, and the Bay Area’s current climate will be located somewhere north of us.

Projected Heat Stress in California for 2070-2100 (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Projected Heat Stress in California for 2070-2100 (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Mapping a Moving Climate

The Nature Conservancy of California has attempted to map some of these trends (see above and below). Scientists averaged together several different climate models to create a picture of California’s future in terms of temperature and precipitation. They then applied that projection to habitats for specific species, to make predictions about how ranges may shift. The maps show both how much areas are likely to change, as well as how certain the predictions are.

“What we’re trying to understand is how does the way we protect species in the future need to change with a changing climate,” says Rebecca Shaw, Director of Conservation for the Nature Conservancy of California. “The kind of strategies you employ and how much you spend is really going to be dependent on how certain you are about change in the future.”

For example, she says some parts of the Sierra are not likely to change very much over the next century, but some places like the Mojave Desert are expected to change a great deal. That kind of information could be useful for land managers trying to plan for the future. For example, in areas that are expected to undergo great change, it might be more important to preserve corridors, or connecting stretches of protected lands, so that populations can move as the climate changes, if they are unable to adapt where they are.

Loarie says “assisted migration”–helping specific species move to new locations–is expensive, unpredictable, and unrealistic. Instead, he, too, corridors for plants and animals to safely follow their climate–if they can keep up. Species like the American pika, already living on mountaintops, can’t go any farther uphill. Their habitats could disappear completely, or, as Loarie says, “they’ll pop off the top.”

There are limitations to the predictions one can make with temperature velocity measurements. What temperature changes will do to fog, for instance, is still unknown, so it’s not clear yet where the redwoods will need to move in the next 100 or so years.

To enable the second option, Hamilton agrees with Loarie. she says the conservation community needs to rethink its traditional strategy of protecting lands. Instead of protecting specific parcels of land and expecting them the stay the same over time, conservationists need to expect change, and to create connectivity in the landscape so that species can move when and if they need to.

Projected changes in California Salamander habitat (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Projected changes in California Salamander habitat (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Projected changes in California Blue Oak habitat (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Projected changes in California Blue Oak habitat (Map: The Nature Conservancy)

Hot Topics in San Diego

NASA's "Dynamic Planet" exhibit at the San Diego Convention Center. Photo: Craig Miller

NASA's "Dynamic Planet" exhibit at the San Diego Convention Center. Photo: Craig Miller

SAN DIEGO –The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) draws “thousands” of scientists in virtually every endeavor, from astrophysics to zoology. In climate science circles there was no lack of topics to choose from this year. Among them:

Geo-Engineering

Several sessions were devoted to the notion of fending off climate change by tinkering with earth systems. In technical sessions and news briefings, there was a range of opinion on display, from “Let’s try it” to “Let’s look at it,” to “Don’t even think about it.” There seems to be general agreement that techniques like seeding the atmosphere with particulates could yield rapid results–but the idea is fraught with political controversy and legal pitfalls. Stanford’s Ken Caldeira likened the idea to a cancer patient who accepts the risks of chemotherapy, in order to avoid worse consequences. Philosophy professor (and Caldeira’s former teacher) Martin Bunzl, firmly rejected that analogy, saying that unlike cancer therapy, the risks are not well known and “You can’t just turn it off.” Bunzl directs the Climate and Social Policy Initiative at Rutgers University.

At Climate Watch, we’re preparing an explanatory radio feature on geo-engineering, for broadcast in the coming weeks.

Oceans

The plight of the planet’s oceans was a focus of the conference, with numerous discussions of acidification, marine reserves and the newly implemented concept of “marine spatial planning,” an effort to map the oceans’ topography, biota and habitat, then translate that into a kind of zoning plan for human use (an approach specifically mandated by the Obama administration last year).

In October, researchers will formally conclude the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year collaboration among scientists in 80 countries, to “assess and explain the diversity, distribution and abundance of life in the ocean.” During a media briefing at AAAS, census Co-Chief Scientist Ron O’Dor estimated that the final tally would include 5,000 newly discovered species (“not counting the microbials”), from flying sea cucumbers to the “Rasta sponge,” which, according to O’Dor’s colleague, Shirley Pomponi, appears to sport dreadlocks and also “produces an anti-cancer compound.” O’Dor said one general conclusion from the census would be that while it is “large and resilient, we can’t keep insulting the ocean forever.”

Science & Policy

In keeping with the meeting’s theme of “Bridging Science and Society,” and reflecting the current angst over credibility in science, there were overflow sessions with titles such as “A Wobbly Three-Legged Stool: Science, Politics and the Public.” While people spilled out the door of that room, hard-science lectures in adjacent rooms drew just a smattering of people. In an interview with Climate Watch, Brad Allenby, a professor of engineering and ethics at Arizona State University, lamented that “the climate change discussion has become so polarized, even among scientists, that it’s difficult to present the public with factual information that is credible.”

European Union exhibit at AAAS. Some attendees commented that the exhibit hall seemed sparse this year. Photo: Craig Millerl

European Union exhibit at AAAS. Some attendees commented that the exhibit hall seemed sparse this year. Photo: Craig Miller

National Climate Service

NOAA chief Jane Lubchenko used the occasion of the conference to talk up her agency’s new National Climate Service, funded by legislation last year. The new branch will provide one-stop shopping for climate research and tools for policymakers, including those at the state and local level. Lubchenko says she hopes to have the new unit operational by October, when the federal fiscal year turns over.

No Protection for American Pika

American Pika, Photo: Doug Van Gausig

American Pika, Photo: Doug Von Gausig

The high-alpine rabbit relative, the American pika, does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a ruling Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The decision was required by a court order stemming from a lawsuit brought by the San Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity against the agency, for failing to respond to a petition submitted by the Center in 2007.

The CBD petition cited climate change as the cause for population decline in pika populations in the mountains of Nevada’s Great Basin. Because the creatures can die from overheating at temperatures as low as 78 degrees, and research suggests that a warming climate has led to major losses in lower-elevation populations, pushing pika to migrate to higher elevations. Some biologists are concerned that if temperatures rise high enough, they may reach the mountain-tops and run out of hospitable habitat.

“By not listing the pika, the decision is not respecting the best available science,” said Shaye Wolf, a staff biologist at the CBD. “The science is very clear. Scientists in the Great Basin will tell you that their research is showing that pika are disappearing and that the losses are linked to climate change: heat stress in the summer and loss of snowpack in the winter.”

Wolf said that the federal agency is required to use the “best available science” in making its ruling. She said that the CBD may challenge the decision on this basis.

“The (government’s) interpretation of the studies is that even though pika are disappearing and will continue to disappear, they will be able to cope,” said Wolf. “That’s not consistent with what we’re seeing. It’s a bizarre argument that pika will adapt. There’s no basis for that claim.

Had the federal agency ruled the other way, the pika would have been the first animal to make the endangered list as a direct result of climate change.  Last year, the Obama Administration denied a similar petition for the Alaskan spotted seal, Wolf said.

The scientific community itself is split about whether the pika warrants a federal listing. While research shows that some populations of pika are declining, such as in the Great Basin, not everyone agrees that the entire species is facing extinction.

The CBD also has a pika case still pending at the state level.  The California Fish and Game Commission has twice denied CBD requests for a status review of the American pika. The organization is currently challenging the state’s second denial.

For more background on the CBD’s efforts to list the pika, see Craig Miller’s blog posts from May 2009.