May 7, 2009

Formal Protection For Pika Due To Climate Change

A minute mammal that needs cold weather to survive may become the first animal in the lower 48 states to get Endangered Species Act protection specifically for the reason of the climate change.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, answering a petition sent by environmentalists, announced Wednesday that they will start an in-depth appraisal of the American pika and present their notes by Feb. 1, 2010.

The agency accepted that there is "substantial information" demonstrating that climate change could hurt the pikas' environment and range.

"The service knows that climate change is real. It is the biggest conservation challenge of our time," announced Diane Katzenberger, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman in Denver.

The pika, a relative of the rabbit, lives mainly in the rocky mountain slopes in 10 states.

It thrives in alpine settings, as they have thick fur, unhurried reproductivity and a thermal regulation system that cannot operate in the heat. Even short contact with a temperature of 78 degrees or more can kill them.

As the West continues to grow warmer, scientists state that many pikas have tried to migrate to a higher area to seek cooler homes, but eventually run out of room to run.

If the pika is helped under the Act, it could also aid other species at risk from the climate change, noted Greg Loarie, a lawyer with Earthjustice.

"The pika is the fire alarm and this is our opportunity to come to grips with global warming and prevent an extinction crisis," Loarie added.

Expanding federal aid to the pika due to climate change may lead to better policy discussions about how best to alleviate the harm. Environmentalists feel that the pika's protection should inspire a huge movement to stop emissions that affect global warming.

Katzenberger added that Fish and Wildlife is currently developing a five-year plan to deal with climate change.

An investigation in 2003 discovered that six of the 25 pika populations in the Great Basin had vanished, attributed to the effects of warming temperatures.

Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, noted that successive studies point out that even more populations in the Great Basin have departed.


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