Native Village Youth and Education News

May 1, 2009 Issue 198
Volume 4

Warming West Imperils Tiny Pika
Condensed by Native Village

 

Salt Lake City, Utah:  For American pikas in the Great Basin, the news is grim: the tiny, short-legged, softball-sized fur ball that huddles in high mountain slopes must scurry farther up the mountains as the climate warms. In some places, they've run out of room to run.

Now federal officials may put the pika on the endangered species list. That would make it the first species in the lower 48 states to get federal endangered species protections because of climate change.

"[The pika] is feeling an exaggerated brunt of global warming," said Greg Loarie from Earthjustice. "Unlike others, it can't move north. It's stuck. [But] the pika is the tip of the iceberg, Scientists are saying if global warming continues on this track, there are more extinctions coming. I don't think that most people are willing to accept that."

The polar bear is already listed because of threats of global warming. The pika could be next. And more petitions naming climate change as a cause of species decline are likely in the coming years

Archaeologist Donald Grayson said that pikas once lived at about 5,700 feet above sea level. Now they are now averaging higher than 8,000 feet.  "In the Great Basin, pikas now are at such high elevations, there's not any place for them to go any higher," he said. "I actually think that pikas in the Great Basin are probably doomed."

Six of 25 known pika populations in the Great Basin have already disappeared.

"Climate seems to be the single strongest driver but it's interacting" with other factors such as grazing, habitat loss, roads and human disturbance, said Erik Beever.  "There's not a lot of wiggle room with these guys." He was referring to the small difference between pikas' body temperature and the temperature at which they die.

"What the loss of the pika shows us is that global warming is impacting wildlife here in our own backyard," said biologist Shaye Wolf. "It provides an early indicator of what's to come if we don't reduce our greenhouse gas pollution."

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