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For Immediate Release, January 3, 2008

Contact: Kassie Siegel, (760) 366-2232 x 302, (951) 961-7927 (mobile)

Lawsuit to Be Filed to Protect American Pika:
Bush Administration Ignores Endangered Species Act Deadline for
Small Mammal Threatened by Global Warming

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.— Today the Center for Biological Diversity sent the U.S. Department of the Interior a formal notice of intent to sue to force the agency to respond to a petition seeking protection under the Endangered Species Act for the American pika. The pika is a small, alpine mammal that stands to be one of the first documented extinctions caused by global warming. Rising temperatures from greenhouse gas pollution have led to dramatic losses of pika populations and could eliminate the species from large regions of the American West by the end of this century. More than a third of documented pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have gone extinct.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the government to list the American pika under the federal Endangered Species Act on October 1, 2007, triggering a deadline of January 1, 2008, for the Department of the Interior to make the first required “90-day finding” on the petition. The pika joins the polar bear, ribbon seal, Kittlitz’s murrelet, a dozen species of penguins, and two corals in a growing group of species imperiled by global warming for which the Center for Biological Diversity is pursuing federal protection. Thus far, only the coral species have been formally protected, but a final listing determination for the polar bear is due on January 9, 2008.

“The American pika is the American West’s canary in the coal mine and needs immediate protection,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and one of the primary authors of the petition. “The pika is adapted to life in the cold and thrives in the high-elevation mountain ranges of the western United States. As temperatures rise, pika populations at lower elevations are being driven to extinction, pushing the pika further upslope until there will be no where left for it to go.”

The American pika, Ochotona princeps, is a small, furry mammal related to rabbits and hares whose squeaky calls are familiar companions to alpine hikers. Pikas live in the boulder fields and adjoining meadows of windswept mountain peaks, where they spend summers diligently gathering bundles of flowers and grasses to sustain them through the winter months. They weigh only a third of a pound and must collect more than 60 pounds of vegetation to survive the winter.

Adapted to cold alpine conditions, pikas are intolerant of high temperatures and can die from overheating when exposed to temperatures as low as 80°F for just a few hours. Pikas avoid this lethal heat by seeking the cool crevices in the boulder fields where they live and by remaining inactive during warm periods; but they can only do this up to a point. Rising temperatures from global warming threaten pikas by shortening the period available for them to gather food, changing the types of plants in the alpine meadows where they forage, shrinking the area of their meadow foraging habitat, reducing protective insulating snowpack during winter, and, most directly, by causing the animals to die from overheating.

And with climate change this heat death zone is creeping higher up the mountains, jeopardizing the survival of the species. In the Great Basin mountains, researchers have found that the range of the American pika is retreating upslope at an accelerating pace as temperatures warm. More than a third of documented pika populations in the Great Basin have gone extinct in the past century, and those that remain are found an average of 900 feet further upslope. According to climate experts, temperatures in the western United States in this century will increase twice as much as they did in the past century and perhaps more. This level of warming threatens the continued survival of the pika and will prove particularly devastating for pikas living at lower elevations and lower latitudes in the West.

Endangered Species Act listing will provide broad protections to the pika, including a requirement that federal agencies ensure that any action carried out, authorized, or funded by the United States government will not “jeopardize the continued existence” of the species, or adversely modify their critical habitat, as well as the preparation of a recovery plan.

“This illegal delay in taking action to protect the American pika is, unfortunately, not surprising from an administration that has at every turn blocked meaningful action in addressing the climate crisis,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s climate program. “The survival of the American pika, and that of hundreds of similarly imperiled species, hinges on achieving immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but we’re running out of time.”

Further information, including the petition, is available at
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org.

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