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Pika power-downer

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Sarah Gilman | May 07, 2009 09:59 AM

You could say I'm pika-obsessed. I've sat in many a talus field until my butt went numb, watching the diminutive rabbit-relatives ferry mouthfuls of wildflowers. I've spent collective hours trying to mimic their squeeze-toy call (without success) while I built trails on Mount Massive, outside of Leadville, Colo. I even sharpied myself a "Pika Power" patch, complete with a drawing of the furry creature, on a scrap of old sheet and sewed it to the back of a blazer, so that I might sport my pika-love with pride.  In other words, I'm a huge nerd.

And as a certifiable pika nerd, I'm feeling pretty ambivalent about the latest pika news: On Wednesday, May 6, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the alpine critter may warrant federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. As Michelle Nijhuis documented in her 2006 High Country News cover story "The Ghosts of Yosemite" and accompanying sidebar, pikas -- high altitude lovers by nature -- have been retreating to higher and higher elevations as the climate warms. If the trend continues, they may be pushed off the peaks and out of existence.

That possibility led the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustic to petition for pika listing back in 2007. The service's latest finding came after the groups filed a lawsuit in 2008 to force the feds to respond to the petition, and later settled with the government this past February.

On one hand, the announcement indicates pikas may finally get some protection from the feds. And their plight, once fully recognized, may add yet more urgency to mounting a meaningful response to climate change.

On the other hand, it's one more sign that we don't have all that much time to act. And that regardless of what we do, we may quickly lose some of the things that fill us with unselfconscious nerdy wonder.





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