Alpine ‘Boulder Bunny’ Imperiled by Global Warming

August 19, 2008 2:06 PM

CONTACT: Conservation Groups
Greg Loarie, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6725
Shaye Wolf, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5301, cell (415) 385-5746
Stuart Pimm, Professor of Conservation Biology, Duke University, (919) 613-8141,
cell (646) 489-5481

Alpine ‘Boulder Bunny’ Imperiled by Global Warming
State and Federal Lawsuits Filed to Protect American Pika

SAN FRANCISCO – August 19 – Conservation groups filed two lawsuits today seeking
protection of the American pika, whose survival is imperiled by global warming. The
groups went to state court seeking protection of the pika under the California
Endangered Species Act and to a federal court seeking protection under the federal
Endangered Species Act.

The American pika, Ochotona princeps, is a small relative of the rabbit whose
squeaky calls are a familiar companion to alpine hikers. Pikas live in the boulder
fields near mountain peaks in the western United States. 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.

“The pika is the American West’s canary in the coal mine,” said Shaye Wolf, a
biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “As temperatures rise, pika
populations at lower elevations are being driven toextinction, pushing pikas
further upslope until they have nowhere left to go.”

Rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gas pollution have already led to dramatic
losses of lower-elevation pika populations. More than a third of documented pika
populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have gone extinct in
the past century as temperatures warm, 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 at least twice as much as they did in
the past century. This could eliminate the pika from large regions of the American

“Climate change is likely to drive a third of the world’s species to extinction.
Worse, it’s the species living on mountaintops, which until now have been free from
human impact, that will be hardest hit,” said Dr. Stuart Pimm, professor of
Conservation Ecology at Duke University. “The American pika is an obvious example of
such a species at considerable risk from climate change,” said Pimm, who has spent
decades studying the global loss of biological diversity.

In April 2008, the California Fish and Game Commission denied a petition by the
Center for Biological Diversity to protect the pika under the California Endangered
Species Act. A Fish and Game report issued earlier this year stated that “mitigating
greenhouse gas pollution” and“facilitating adaptation to climate change” are “not in
the purview of theCommission or Department to effect,” despite numerous state laws and
policies thatrequire the agencies to consider and respond to climate change.

One of the two cases filed today by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center challenges
the California Fish and Game Commission’s denial of the pika petition.

“The California Fish and Game Commission’s attempt to bury its head in the sand
rather than deal with the impact of global warming on wildlife is an embarrassment
to our state, which is a leader in climate policy,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney
with Earthjustice, which is representing the Center in the lawsuits. “The Commission
is not allowed to abdicate its duty to protect California’s plants, animals, and
wild habitats, and neither is the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service.”

The second case challenges the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to make a timely
initial finding on a separate petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity
in October 2007 to protect the American pika under the federal Endangered Species
Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service has not taken any action on this petition even
though it was required to issue an initial determination within 90 days of receiving
the petition.

Pika Facts:

Pikas live in boulder fields surrounded by meadows on mountain peaks They avoid the
summer heat by seeking the cool crevices under the boulders and by remaining
inactive during warm periods. Despite the long, cold, snowy winters at high elevations,
pikas do not hibernate. Pikas spend summers diligently gathering flowers and grasses and
store them in“haypiles” for food to sustain them through the long winters. These “boulder
bunnies,” which weigh only a third of a pound, must collect more than 60 pounds of
vegetation to survive the winter. Global warming threatens pikas by shortening the time
available for them to gatherfood, changing the types of plants that grow where they live,
reducing theinsulating snowpack during winter, and, most directly, causing the animals to die
from overheating.

Further information on the pika visit:

Photo and Video:

High-resolution photo available for print stories.

B-Roll available for broadcast. View low-res version.

Contact Brian Smith, Earthjustice press office, 510-550-6714.

Legal Documents:

Read a copy of the petition filed in state court today.

Read a copy of the complaint filed in federal court today.


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