The California Fish and Game Commission today voted to designate the American pika as a “candidate” for protection under the California Endangered Species Act, the first step towards full protection for the species in California. The pika is a small mammal found primarily on high mountain peaks and is known as a “climate sentinel” species due to its sensitivity to high temperatures.
“An ever-growing body of scientific studies clearly shows that global warming is big trouble for the pika,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Today’s decision is a long-overdue acknowledgment of the threats global warming poses to the pika and all of California’s wildlife.”
In 2007 the Center submitted a scientific petition requesting that the Commission protect the pika under the state Endangered Species Act due to climate change threats. The Commission twice denied the Center’s petition in 2008 and 2009, claiming each time that there was insufficient evidence to show that the pika may be threatened by global warming in California. Each denial was litigated by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center, and each time the Commission’s denial was overturned as improper, and the Commission ordered to reconsider the petition.
“Climate change has real consequences to wildlife right here in California, not just polar bears in the Arctic,” said Earthjustice attorney Greg Loarie. “We’re heartened that the commission has finally decided to take the plight of the pika seriously.”
Since 2007 the evidence that the pika is threatened by climate change has only increased. As temperatures have risen, pikas have largely disappeared in the warmer, lower-elevation regions of California including the Bodie Hills of the eastern Sierra Nevada and the Lassen region of northern California. Just across the California border, pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and southern Oregon are disappearing and shifting upslope at accelerating rates, including a five-fold increase in the rate of local extinction and an eleven-fold increase in the rate of upslope range retraction in the past 10 years. These losses have been linked to rising temperatures and loss of snowpack due to climate change. Three separate studies found that global warming will virtually eliminate habitat for the pika in California in this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced.