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A Rabbit on the Run

Pika

You've probably never seen one let alone heard of it, but the tiny American pika might soon become the little bunny that roared.

A small relative of the rabbit, the pika dwells among alpine boulder fields of the Sierra and other high-altitude ranges, and as such is wonderfully adapted to life in cold climates. But with global warming raising mountain temperatures, it is a creature running out of room.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today reached a settlement agreement that might provide a spotlight, if not help.

Under the settlement, federal authorities must determine by May whether the pika warrants listing as a federally protected endangered species. If the answer is yes, the little creature –- which emits a squeaky call familiar to alpine hikers -– probably would be formally placed on the list by early 2010.

That would make it a poster child of sorts as the first mammal in the lower 48 states needing federal protection due to global warming.

A third of the pika populations in the mountains of Nevada and Oregon have become extinct in the last century as temperatures warmed. Those that remain in Western states are found 900 feet further upslope. With predictions that U.S. temperatures will rise twice as fast this century as they did over the last 100 years, experts fear the creature could disappear from huge swaths of the American West.

Warm temperatures can literally cause the critters to die of overheating. Climate change also threatens to reduce the insulating winter snowpack they depend on and probably will shorten the foraging season for an animal that weighs just a third of a pound but collects more than 60 pounds of vegetation to survive the winter.

“Global warming has hit home in the lower 48 states, and this is our chance to act,” said Gregory C. Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, an environmental law firm involved in the issue. “If we lose the pika to climate change, we can expect other species to follow.”

What remains unclear is what benefits endangered species protections could bring to the pika. Like polar bears threatened by melting sea ice linked to global warming, the avenues of change needed to protect the pika sometimes seem bigger than the globe we share with them.

-- Eric Bailey

Photo: Center for Biological Diversity

 
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I have backpacked high up in the Sierra back country and have come upon these little creatures poking in and out of talus & boulders. They inhabit the boulder/ talus strewn slopes above timberlime and if you have backpacked along trails deep in back-country above 10- 11,000 ft you might spot them but they are very elusive creatures and usually keep hidden within their rocky dens.

Perhaps the real reason for the decline of nos. of Pikas in the high sierras, if indeed they are declining, is the trampling of their habitat by legions of backpackers stomping on their fragile mountain habitats.

Well thank you Bob, for showing me your Beever.

I went looking for Beevers study, the original one, not the press release from the World Wildlife Fund.
{Beever, E. A., P. F. Brussard, and J. Berger. 2003. Patterns of extirpation among isolated populations of pikas (Ochotona princeps) in the Great Basin. - google it}
The search shows how intertwined Beever is with the World Wildlife Fund. And since the boss is interested in only one thing - ie information that proves climate change..., poor Dr Beever has to deliver that or else he is out a job.
So here is the first sentence of the study,

"We conducted exploratory analyses to examine the relative roles played by natural and anthropogenic influences on persistence of a montane mammal."

Generally if you are paid to find a specific conclusion you will tend to find it.
But here lies the problem. A scientist is supposed to be searching for the truth. It's the scientific ethic, and while it's all well and good for the WWF to beg the question on a topic like global warming, Dr Beever has to hold himself to a higher standard otherwise his name will be "Hansenized" by his peers and history. It is his duty to find and uncover as many different reasons as is humanly possible and confirm or deny them through reason and testing, before he can jump to the conclusion that pika are dissappearing due to anthropogenic influences.
Fortunately Dr Beever is fairly aware of his duty to the truth as a scientist, so we find this in the conclusions of his study on pika.

- The 7 apparent extirpations occurred primarily in livestock-grazed areas (7 of 7 instances);

- at sites not in mountain ranges or in ranges with small amounts of talus habitat (6 of 7);

- in areas having small amounts of talus habitat within 0.8 km (4 of 7);

- and on lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (4 of 7 instances; Appendix II).

- Six of the 7 apparent extirpations, including all 3 recorded locations of O. p. schisticeps from Nevada, occurred in the northwestern corner of the Great Basin.

The reasons why all of these observations are important is because the northwestern corner of the great basin where ALL OF THESE pika extirpations occured, are next to an extinct US calvary fort called Camp Bidwell. Camp Bidwell back at the turn of the century was surrounded by homesteaders who made a living supplying the army with horses and pack animals. After the Modoc Indians surrendered the Army didn't have much need for horses or mules so the Camp Bidwell livestock was let loose on the countryside to go feral. Feral horses and mules eat the exact same thing that pikas do only they eat much more of it leaving little left over for rabbits. Over the years the herd of horses has grown to equalibrium with the limited rainfall of the high desert and the government has to periodicly remove horses from the herd just to preserve habitat for the pronghorn to live. I don't think pika are factored into the equation.
I suppose you could call it "anthropogenic influences" if you want, but you can't call it climate change.

What I really would have liked to hear is a recording of the conversation at the offices of the world wildlife fund when they read Beevers conclusions. How long did they advocate for killing wild horses before someone said that wouldn't work, and they collectively decided to go ahead and spin agw pika extinctions despite the facts?


Oh look. Beever's latest study is titled "American Pikas (Ochotona princeps) in Northwestern Nevada: A Newly Discovered Population at a Low-elevation Site". - google it.

Imagine that.

While the global warming denialism of Limbaugh University graduates is certainly one source of information, some readers may prefer higher credentials when deciding who to trust on global warming and species adaptation.

Here is the latest U.S. government science on the pika.

---

Research by U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Dr. Erik Beever, indicates that global warming may have contributed to local extinctions of pika populations in the Great Basin area east of the Sierra Nevada. During the last part of the 20th century, American pikas disappeared from seven of twenty-five study areas.

Research suggests that as temperatures rise, many alpine animals will seek higher elevations or migrate northward to find suitable habitat. Pikas may be especially vunerable to global warming because:

* They cannot easily migrate since their habitat is restricted to small, disconnected habitat "islands" in mountain ranges.
* Pikas do not appear to move large distances, and individuals may spend their entire lifespan within a half-mile radius
* They do not live in burrows, which could mitigate extreme summer temperatures
* Pikas are densely furred and cannot easily dissipate heat. Hotter temperatures during high activity periods may cause thermal stress.
* They are active year-round and cure summer vegetation for their winter survival. Changes in vegetation or earlier maturation of plants due to global warming may have negative effects.
* Studies suggest that climate change combined with other factors like shrinking habitat and proximity to roads may increase risk of extinction.

Jeff

That's a good catch on your part. The DF&G counted the pika last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Every year it's the same thing.
There are more pika then the last count.
This Center for Biological Diversity has been pestering the DF&G since at least 2002 without any call or evidence to speak of. Last year the DF&G sent one fellow over to UCDavis to get volunteers to count the rabbits. Being liberal ats majors in a college town you know they are motivated to "prove" the climate change.
What happens is they count right up to the point where there are as many or more Pika as they counted last year and the vollunteers lose interest.
This whole crusade is based on the writings of a surveyor of the Yosemite valley Joseph Grinnell. In 1913 Joe apparently didn't have much to do besides wander around Yosemite taking notes and one of the features of his notes where the aboundance of chipmonks and pika.
Today there are few of either in Yosemite, but then again there are few oaktrees and open spaces to grow the type of food necessary for chipmonks and pika to eat, because it's a national park. The park service doesn't let people clear out the deer or the pine like the natives use to do back when Grinnell visited.
These constant lawsuits by the Center for Biological Diversity have absolutely nothing to do with the pika population of the Sierra, because the pika are thriving where the parks department policies will allow.
The CFBD is just a radical group of eco vultures desperate for a lower forty-eight state version of the polar bear sothey can have a cute little cuddly animal to proslytize children with.
Think about it. What the article says about adults not knowing what a pika even is, that's for the most part true. But kids, who are the real target of the propaganda, they almost all watch pikacho cartoons. That's the reason the CFBD picked this particular rabbit out of a hat.

Jeff,

Excellent - appreciated observations!
You - are right on target.

The article never specifically said the animal's numbers were declining as a direct result of global warming. Clever wording sidestepped that committment. Considering the small increase in global temps, other factors would more logically be the cause. For example, water shortages, predation, or disease would more likely be the culprit. Environmental groups are quick to assert that man is the cause of just about any problem observed. The fact is, pikas and other species have had population changes, up and down, long before man could have influenced the climate. If man in fact does affect the climate, do these eons-old natural processes not longer occur? Not likely. We seem to have given environmental groups some sort of fiat power to proclaim any species with declining populations to be victims of man made warming.

This article appears to be just more global warming propaganda disguised as a story about a cute little critter.

Fact! We're already in a global cooling cycle. Ask any one, of the over 650 global warming skeptics.
Climate change? Weather or not, it happens.
Jim Chilton sued the Center for Biological Diversity - for lying, and won.
http://www.fopv.org/article3.html
They have zero credibility because of their lying.
Their end run is to shut down America's domestic resource production.
The amount of money taxpayers wasted on ESA in its 35 years, is sinful. Why? The multiplier affect: 1) Taxpayers pay double and sometimes triple dipping enviro atty's like Earth Justice (Don't believe me? Ask Senator Enzi. He's the only CPA in the Senate, and knows these numbers well!).
2) Taxpayer monies go towards the shut down of their food supplies.
3) Taxpayers pay more money for imported food.
4) Resource producing communities are financially crippled to the extent some cease to exist.
Just look at the proven to be common meadow mouse - AKA Pebbles. Thus far millions have been spent in pursuit of debunking Denver Museum of History's findings (Mouse is common.), businesses destroyed, needed services stopped,
yet - - we're told - - it will take at least two more years JUST to get this damn mouse off the records!
Thievery by corrupt environmental groups should be stopped. But will they be? Probably not. There are still too many folks who, like those who fell for Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, will fawn and follow Al Gore's whopper and the common meadow mouse.
America needs to install an accountability act. He (or she) who wants prairie rats, common mice, feral horses and on, should be ordered to feed, clothe and shelter them...at their own expense.
I don't expect others to take care of my pets, and it's rude for anyone to expect I should take care of theirs.
Posted by: Roni Bell Sylvester | February 13, 2009 at 03:09 PM

Although such a small animal, it is a shame that it is facing such adversity because of human actions. This is just the newest example of how humanity has adversely effected the environment, wildlife, and our climates. Let's hope for some swift legislation that will try to reverse what we have done.


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