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Furry critter may rise to spotted owl status

Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor
1/11/2012

 

The status of the American pika, a furry little critter that resembles a rodent, might soon be on par with that of the iconic spotted owl.

Loggers, hunters, miners, cattlemen and other forest users could be among those affected if this happens.

The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission for the pika’s listing as an endangered or threatened species in 2007.

The center’s efforts have persisted, even after failures at both state and federal levels.

After twice rejecting the proposed listing, the commission was sued by the center.

The suit resulted in commission members agreeing to reconsider an amended petition, which was submitted to the commission in 2009.

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) was charged in February 2011 with evaluating the amended petition.

The DFG had evaluated the original petition for the commission twice before.

This time the petition has made it through the evaluation process and is now in the public comment period as a listing that may be warranted.

DFG seeks public comment about the pika’s ecology, biology, life history, distribution, abundance, threats, essential habitat and recommendations for management.

Comments, data and other information must be submitted in writing to the California Department of Fish and Game, Nongame Wildlife Program, Attn: Scott Osborn, 1812 Ninth St., Sacramento, CA 95811.

Comments may also be emailed to pika@dfg.ca.gov.

All comments received by March 15 will be included in a report due to the commission by the end of October.

The commission will allow a 30-day public comment period after it receives the DFG report and recommendation, before any action is taken.

The petition evaluation report can be found online at dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/publications.

About the pika

American pikas look like rodents, but are actually relatives of rabbits and hares, with fully furred feet and two pairs of upper incisors used for gnawing.

They inhabit cool rocky places, usually above the tree line.

In California, they typically live at moderate to high elevations in the Sierra Nevada, southern Cascades and mountain ranges of the Great Basin.

Pikas eat plants, store hay for long winters and rarely encounter humans, according to scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences.

Climate change is considered the primary factor that impacts pika populations in California, although mining, grazing, disease and other factors may have an effect as well, according to the DFG evaluation.

The federal climate assessment, done at the request of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was the first climate assessment they ever conducted for a non-marine mammal.

The scientists did note climate changes are causing warmer pika habitats.

“Because of where they live, they are relatively unaffected by other human activities, but if climate change forces their preferred habitat upslope, populations could be left isolated, on ‘sky islands’ with nowhere to go,” said Andrea Ray, a physical scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

The Fish and Wildlife Service reviewed the climate change assessment and decided that American pikas did not need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The state-level study focuses on more than climate changes, which may not be as drastic as previous reports according to more recent studies mentioned in the evaluation.

Pikas have also been found outside their typical habitat.

So, for a third time, the DFG is finding “insufficient evidence to indicate that the threat of climate change by itself or in combination with other factors is an immediate threat to the American pika,” according to DFG Director John McCamman in a memo submitted to the commission with the evaluation.


Read the reports

NOAA Scientists Peek at Places Pikas Populate: Climate Assessment on American Pika Habitat Reveals Warming Trend
http://www.noaa.gov/features/02_monitoring/pikas.html

California Department of Fish and Game
Public Notice:
http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/CPC/docs/PikaPublicNoticeDec2011.pdf

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