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Know the West

Pika positives


Molly Samuel's article "Pika politics" highlights the difficulties and nuances in determining whether species should be listed under the Endangered Species Act (HCN, 4/26/10). It's very apparent that species in peril will have difficulty getting listed in the current fiscal and political climate around the ESA. While some lament the pika not being listed for political reasons, there may be a bit of a silver lining. Due to the increased exposure regarding the plight of the pika, there has been increased funding for pika research and increased public awareness of the importance of alpine ecosystems.

Two large-scale projects have been started to fill in the gaps with information that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found to be lacking during their review of the listing proposal, specifically pika distributions and under-talus temperatures. These projects combine the talents of biologists from government agencies, scientific nonprofits, including the Craighead Environmental Research Institute, and citizen scientists to document pika locations, determine the extent of pika populations and monitor under-talus temperatures in the West. One project focuses on the area within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and includes two national parks and five national forests. A similar project looks to determine pika distributions at a larger scale in eight national parks throughout the West.

The results will be used to compare where pikas currently exist across regional landscapes and to model under-talus temperatures at a finer scale. This will enable scientists and politicians to make better-informed decisions when the pika is proposed for Endangered Species Act protection again.

April Craighead
Craighead Environmental Research Institute
Bozeman, Montana