Monday, February 8, 2010

Pika Threatened By Climate Change Will Not Be Added To Endangered Species

The Fish and Wildlife Service has rejected a bid to extend endangered species protection to the pika. What is perhaps more important in this decision is not the immediate survival of the species in the Western U.S. but in the possible reason for its rejection. This cousin of the rabbit is being pushed closer to extinction and the most probable cause is the politically-sensitive climate change.

Pika: Life in the RocksThe pika is a small hamster-like animal, with short limbs, rounded ears, and short tail. The name pika (pronounced PYE-kə) is used for any member of the Ochotonidae, a family within the order of lagomorphs, which also includes the Leporidae (rabbits and hares). One genus, Ochotona, is recognised within the family, and it includes 30 species.

Pikas are also called rock rabbits or coneys. It is also known as the "whistling hare" due to its high-pitched alarm call when diving into its burrow.

These animals are herbivores, and feed on a wide variety of plant matter. Because of their native habitat, they primarily eat grasses, sedges, shrub twigs, moss, and lichen.

The American pika's mountain habitat is the California's Sierra Nevada and parts of 9 other Western states. Temperatures in these western areas could increase by up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by 2050 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Pika have thick coats that allow them to tolerate harsh winters but literally overheat them to death if they are exposed to an afternoon of 77+ degrees Fahrenheit.

By adding the pika to the ESA list, it would have forced the current administration to address the issue of climate change affecting animal species. That is a fight that the Bush administration was unwilling to take on, and it appears that the Obama administration is also unwilling to tackle it.

In defending the decision to keep them from being listed, the administration points to new studies that suggest that pika will be able to migrate to cooler areas upslope.

Pika: Life in the Rocks

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