The American pika — a small, herbivorous, conspicuously cute mammal related to rabbits and hares — is adapted to the cold climate in high-elevation boulder fields and alpine meadows in the mountains of the American West. But the very adaptations that have allowed this species to survive make pikas extra sensitive to the changes wrought by global warming. Rising temperatures threaten pikas by shortening the period available for them to gather food, changing the types of plants in the alpine meadows where they feed, shrinking the size of alpine meadows, and reducing insulating snowpack that protects them from cold snaps in the winter. Most directly, warming can also cause the animals to die from overheating.

To save the pika from demise, in August 2007 the Center petitioned the state of California to list the five California American pika subspecies as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. Less than two months later, we submitted another petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the full species as federally endangered. But the California Fish and Game Commission denied our petition, and the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to take action — so we hauled both agencies to court in August 2008. After multiple times being forced in court to reconisider the pika for protection — and even once convincing the Commission to designate the pika as a “candidate” for protection — in May 2013 the agency voted not to protect the pika under the state's Endangered Species Act.

And on the federal level, no progress was made at all. Despite clear scientific evidence that the pika is threatened with extinction by global warming, in early 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service declared it would not protect the species.

Designating the pika as endangered would help protect the species from direct harm and would also require the protection of the habitat necessary for the pika's survival and recovery. Just as importantly, the species' protected status would be a strong call to action against global warming. The Center won't stop fighting for this tiny mountain mammal.