USFWS, Pick pikas for protected status!

USFWS, Pick pikas for protected status!

Tiny little fur balls stand as icons for the massive western mountains. pika2 Weighing less than half a pound (typically, about 6-7 ounces), the American Pika may seem an odd choice as an iconic species to represent the massive mountain ranges of the western United States. But these cute little fur balls thrive in some of the roughest, toughest parts of the mountains. They scurry through the scree and talus slopes high up the mountains, harvesting grasses and plants during the short alpine summers so they can feed on it all winter while buried under deep snow packs. Cousins to rabbits, pikas have small, rounded bodies (approximately 6-inches in total body length), short, round ears, and very distinctive calls.They open their mouths wide in a broad shouting motion, yet instead of mighty calls, the diminutive creatures utter cheery little calls of "eeeei!" The pikas exist only in these extreme conditions, but changes in our global climate patterns are threatening the very existence of these icons.
Pika calling "eeei!"
Pika calling "eeei!"
The small cousins to rabbits have evolved to fit perfectly into the extreme conditions of the alpine landscape. They need high, cold places to exist as their dense fur, slow reproductivity and a finely tuned thermal regulation system requires them to live in areas where the temperatures seldom, if ever, climbs  above 78 degrees. Unfortunately, as climate changes accelerate, the mountainous regions of the western U.S. will experience the greatest temperature swings, with more regions facing higher summertime temperatures.  In fact, the changes that have already occurred are reducing pika populations in many areas. A recent study of  pika populations in the Great Basin region of Utah and Nevada found that a quarter of all pika populations have disappeared in the last few years. A biological archeologist from the University of Washington also reports that the average altitude of pika populations has climbed from 5,700 feet  to nearly 8,000 feet as temperatures have changed. The pikas can't go much higher before running out of mountain.   Fortunately, actions are being taken to help the pikas fight for their continued existence.  The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit organization working to support threatened species, recently reached a settlement with  the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that calls for the USFWS to assess whether the pika may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. That determination must be made by May 2009. For more information, visit the Center for Biological Diversity.  pika3
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