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State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

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State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby ERIC » Sun Feb 10, 2008 11:13 am

State wildlife officials oppose protection for Sierra critter

By Matt Weiser - mweiser@sacbee.com
Published 12:03 pm PST Friday, February 8, 2008
Sacramento Bee
Article Link


California wildlife officials have proposed denying endangered species status for the American pika, a rabbit-like resident of high Sierra peaks that is losing its habitat to climate change.

The recommendation came in a staff report presented to the state Fish and Game Commission on Thursday. The commission is expected to discuss the report next month. The pika is the first animal petitioned for listing under the state Endangered Species Act because of effects from climate change.

The report cited a lack of data on the pika's decline in California as the reason for denying the listing request, which was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity. The group also petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the pika under the federal Endangered Species Act, which is pending.

Biologists have documented that the pika population is shrinking as mountains warm, because the fist-sized animal is being forced into ever-smaller "islands" of habitat higher in the mountains. But most of this evidence has been gathered in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Utah, and several experts contacted by The Bee said there is not yet sufficient evidence of population declines in California.

But they said there is evidence of habitat shrinkage in California. And they urged the state to study the problem, as the pika is likely the first of many wildlife species harmed by climate change.

"There are enough data to at least warrant a precautionary way of looking at pika, and maybe fund studies, but not dismiss it out of hand," said Andrew Smith, a professor of conservation biology at Arizona State University, who has studied pika colonies in the Eastern Sierra for more than 30 years. "They should look at it seriously."
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby gdurkee » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:40 pm

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Bighorn Sheep and pikas are, to me, the critters most emblematic of the Sierra. The Bighorn are for sure endangered and I've become pretty worried about pikas. As the article says, they're definitely disappearing in the interior Nevada range, likely as a result of rising temperatures. They can only forage in a narrow temperature band and, as that cool band shrinks with warming, they get less food.

http://yosemite.org/naturenotes/Pika1.htm

A repeat of the Grinnell survey that transected Yosemite in the early 1900s was just repeated. It was found that the range of a number of animals was reduced. Pikas were found about 1,500 vertical feet above their former range. This is my experience over the last 30 years in Sequoia Kings. I think biologists are correct to say there isn't enough data but no one is collecting that data, with the possible exception of Sequoia Kings. Rangers there were asked to specifically note the presence of all pikas as we traveled. Unfortunately, that's not been a well coordinated effort, though some data is better than none.

I also think the belding ground squirrel may be in trouble in Sequoia Kings, for instance. Where I would see dozens of individuals in several meadows in Evolution Valley, there are now only maybe 6 individuals in McClure and none throughout the Valley where they definitely existed only 15 years ago. They've disappeared entirely from Little Pete in LeConte Canyon.

No one is paying attention to any of this.

Very depressing... .

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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby BSquared » Sun Feb 10, 2008 8:52 pm

Egad! I knew of the general problem of alpine species being forced to higher (and therefore smaller) "islands" of mountaintops, but the pika! Arghhh! Thats terrible! And you're right about the data -- nobody's collecting it. Thanks for the post, George, but again: Arghhh!

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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby gdurkee » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:11 pm

Arrrgggggh! is right. For more information:

http://mvz.berkeley.edu/Grinnell/yosemite/index.html

Long, but worth reading the final report:

http://mvz.berkeley.edu/Grinnell/pdf/2007_Yosemite_report.pdf

I've started on an excerpt for Nature Notes -- no telling when I'll be finished, though (entropy, it's everywhere...).

I've looked at the data we've collected in Sequoia Kings and, to my not well-trained eye, we don't have enough to show any sort of definitive trend. I made a serious effort to look for pikas in Goddard Canyon (between the Piute Bridge and Hell For Sure Junction). For two years, I found none in the lower canyon and only an occasional chirp in the upper. As I was hiking out this year, I heard one just below the middle bridge. Basically, I heard none until about 10,000 feet in the Evolution area. They were definitely there (Goddard Canyon) in fair numbers in the 80s (the camp at the 3rd bridge is called Cony Camp by locals, presumably after pikas and not rabbits).

A few years ago, they were in very good shape on the trail up to Rae Lakes from Woods Creek, and I collected several years of transect data there. Same for the drainage up to Window Lakes and above. I've got a good base line there for follow-up, should anyone be interested. Whitney I think has good populations on the lower slopes of the west side. Overall, the news is not good.

One of my best memories is of a pika family under a huge boulder at Rae Lakes RS, chirping out the all's well throughout the night.

Arrrrggghhhhh. Sigh.

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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby dave54 » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:23 pm

I saw the article in the paper, too, and am somewhat confused.

I have not conducted any population surveys, but in my personal experience I am seeing them more often in the Lassen Park area, and at lower elevations than years past. Perhaps I am just more attuned now to spotting them.
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby AldeFarte » Mon Feb 11, 2008 12:57 am

Is this a case of cause and affect versus cause and effect? If the pika is losing ground ,we don't know why. If it is global warming ,then there will be fewer pika's. I mean no ill will here, but I see this as similiar to the MYLF issue. Let's piss on the campfire and talk ourselves and others into believing we are putting it out. It would be like trying to stop the cycle of rabbit populations from crashing every 10 years to save the lynx. It ain't gonna happen ,and the lynx ,pika and MYLF will still be around despite the best efforts of do gooders to jinx the system. By the way George, I like the entropy comment. I can relate. jls
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Postby caddis » Mon Feb 11, 2008 5:49 pm

California wildlife officials have proposed denying endangered species status for the American pika, a rabbit-like resident of high Sierra peaks that is losing its habitat to climate change.


The report cited a lack of data on the pika's decline in California as the reason for denying the listing request, which was submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Do you think the center fof bio diversity has an agenda?


It sounds to me, upon reading the article, and most of the posts, that:

a) There isn't sufficient proof pika numbers have declined drastically

b) There isn't sufficient proof their habitat has decreased drastically

c) Their isn't ANY proof the unproven assumptions are tied to climate change.


What about natural prey?
Couldn't someone say , assuming pika's are declining, their decline is a result of some other environmental success story? Maybe there is an increase in raptors which may prey upon pika's???

What about disease or parasites?

What about a change in the last 100 years in logging, grazing, hunting, or trapping practices?

There are too many variables involved to naturally assume it's caused by climate change......again


I'm guessing their numbers may well be down, but there is a greater chance it's probably caused my something less politically motivating
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby gdurkee » Mon Feb 11, 2008 7:32 pm

Caddis:

No. A number of studies (the most recent the one I linked to on Nature Notes) show that pikas have a very narrow range of temperature they're able to forage in for food each day. As average temperatures warm (as they've done in the Nevada mountain ranges studied), that band of acceptable temperature narrows and the pikas can't get enough food in the time available to forage. As a result they die out. Their populations are isolated and so can't recruit from anything nearby and go extinct in those areas. That study looked at all other mortality factors and found that reduced foraging ability as a result of warmer temperatures was the primary reason for the decline and not predators etc.

The same effect is being seen in the Sierra, though admittedly from diverse and sometimes anecdotal population surveys. The Grinnell repeat survey, though, is a very good transect. It shows the population range for pikas has definitely been reduced in Yosemite and the east side of the Sierra (below Tioga Pass).

In the Sierra, they probably haven't declined "drastically" but are in definite decline. Throughout the west, an argument could be made that the decline is "drastic" and I think that's what CBD is saying.

And, as a 'glass half full' kinda guy, I think it is often possible to figure out clever plans to keep these critters from disappearing (though I like the darned clever use of affect and effect in a single sentence). The first step is figuring out if there is, in fact, a problem (the stage we're in with pikas); then see if there's something local or global we can do about it.

g.
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby caddis » Thu Feb 14, 2008 8:01 am

George,

I replied a couple days ago, but I lost the reply and was too lazy to repeat it.But I'll say I either understand most of what you are saying and/or agree with most of it. One question from the first paragraph: Wouldn't a longer season increase the foraging season?

My concern is any question of 'cause' and I don't give much credence to groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity who are quick to conclude the usual...global change, and the solutions are always similar...Use the endangered species act to secure funding for studies, pet projects, control, mandates, regulations,... It's the usual agenda that usually strips away just little more of our freedom

I too see the glass as half full but I guess I have a different view on nature or at least the dynamics of it...It's in a constant state of change andI assume it will always adapt or bounce back. I also believe we don't fully understand all the variables involved. Change or action just for the sake of "doing something" is foolish more often then wise. Good intentions don't mean much in the real world. I found an example of this in todays newspaper:

UNITED NATIONS: Many of the worlds poorest are unable to get enough food because of soaring prices caused by the conversion of food crops into biofuels


This is the same well intentioned group that said, only a year ago, "Biofuels can cut poverty, provide energy and mitigate climate change"
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby SSSdave » Sat Feb 23, 2008 5:28 pm

I've always seen lots of pikas and marmots. If one understands where either of these species prefer to live, it seems they always are in those places. I tend to camp in remote locations and regularly hear them chirping and whistling even when I don't see them. Especially in the early morning hours at dawn. Over periods of years species spread out from preferred core areas into less ideal locations due to sprecies population pressures. Then when a period of hard weather or limited food occurs the ones that have moved into areas that are difficult likely die off and just the ones in the more ideal locales continue to exist. Some places like riparian floodplains are often superb locations for many animals to move in to but every so often a big flood wipes out any that can't fly, swim, or climb. Thus the pattern continues over decades and centuries with the limits of each species in its own niche varying. At times a species will die out whole within a larger zone and even less frequently the species will end its existence on the planet. ...David
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby gdurkee » Sun Feb 24, 2008 12:56 pm

To paraphrase Darwin:

"If the misery of the pikas be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin."

-- Charles Robert Darwin
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Re: State wildlife officials oppose protection for pika

Postby hikerduane » Mon Feb 25, 2008 3:47 am

How would the pika be protected if put on the endangered species list? Shoot predators, ban back country travel where the pika should be, make ice drops? I don't see how spending money studying them would protect them. It is the larger scheme/picture, not isolated problems that could be cleared up by stopping a activity or practice. They are cute little guys, I just don't understand how they would be helped.
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