For the Second Time, Court Tells California to Reconsider Protecting Pika


Climate change destroying pika habitat


Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700


Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 385-5746

A state judge ruled today that the California Fish and Game Commission must reconsider whether the American pika may warrant protection under the California Endangered Species Act due to climate change. Today’s ruling by San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch marks the second time in two years that the court has faulted the Commission for rejecting the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2007 petition to list the pika as a threatened species.

“We’ve been on this merry-go-round for three years,” said Greg Loarie of Earthjustice, who represented the Center. “Our hope is that today’s decision will finally persuade the Commission to confront the science showing that climate change poses a threat not just to polar bears, but also to wildlife in our own backyard.”

In August 2007, the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a scientific petition to list the pika in California under the state Endangered Species Act due to threats from global warming. Adapted to cold alpine conditions, the American pika lives in boulder fields near mountain peaks in California and through the western United States. As temperatures have risen, pikas have largely disappeared in California’s Bodie Hills in the eastern Sierra Nevada. Just across the California border, more than a third of documented pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of northwest Nevada and southern Oregon have disappeared in recent decades in response to rising temperatures. Three studies concluded that global warming will virtually eliminate habitat for the pika in California in this century if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically reduced.

“Scientific studies clearly show that the pika is imperiled by global warming,” said Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “In denying the petition, the Commission repeatedly ignored the science and demonstrated a troubling lack of leadership by refusing to protect California’s vulnerable wildlife from climate change.” 

This is the second time the court has found that the Commission acted improperly in its handling of the pika petition. In May 2009 the court found that the Commission used an unlawfully high burden of proof when it first denied the pika petition in April 2008; the court ordered the Commission to reconsider the petition using the correct standard. Today the court found that the Commission failed to properly reconsider the petition, including its failure to consider new studies on pika population losses in the Bodie Hills and Yosemite regions of the Sierra Nevada. The court has once again ordered the Commission back to the drawing board. If the Commission accepts the petition, it would start a year-long scientific review to determine whether the pika should be listed in California.

Today’s ruling resolves a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by Earthjustice, in October 2009 — Center for Biological Diversity v. California Fish & Game Comm’n, No. CPF-090509927 (San Francisco Superior Court).

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