Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Some Say Endangered Species Protection for the American Pika “Not Warranted”

Bert Gildart: Two years ago I wrote a major story for a magazine produced by The Wilderness Society about global warming. At the time I quoted Dr. Erik Beever, one of the premier scientists working on the subject. He was concerned about the effect rising temperatures would have on pika, a tiny member of the rabbit family and one I have posted on previously. Much of his work has been centered on pika in wilderness areas of the Great Basin. Because pika can not tolerate the increasing temperatures associated with global warming he said that the species is like the canary in the coal mine, telling us world temperatures are too high.


A member of the rabbit family whose survival depends on the cold temperatures previously associated with high altitudes.


Beever says that archaeological evidence proves pika have inhabited the Great Basin for the past 40,000 years and that in 1940, scientists cataloged 25 distinct populations in the region. In 1992 Beever began his investigations but found only 19 pika populations. In 2004 subsequent research indicated his 19 had dropped to 17 and that all pika had migrated up about 130 vertical yards.

Despite the fact that he believes pika will most likely be gone from the Great Basin,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service released findings today saying the pika need not be placed on the endangered species list. Though their findings contradict those of some scientists, here is what they had to say.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“Although the American pika is potentially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change in portions of its range, the best available scientific information indicates that pikas will be able to survive despite higher temperatures. Pikas will have enough suitable high elevation habitat to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered. As a result, the pika does not meet the criteria for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“We have completed an exhaustive review of the scientific information currently available regarding the status of the American pika and have analyzed the potential threats to the species,” said Steve Guertin, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “Based on this information, we have determined that the species as a whole will be able to survive despite increased temperatures in a majority of its range and is not in danger of extinction in the foreseeable future…


“A key characteristic of the American pika is its temperature sensitivity. Pikas cannot tolerate much higher body temperatures than their norm of 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, the species is found at progressively higher elevations, where cooler temperatures are found, as one moves south through the range of the species.  In Canada, populations occur from sea level to 9,842 feet, but in New Mexico, Nevada, and southern California, populations rarely exist below 8,202 feet.


The pika is like the canary in the coal mine telling us by its demise that world temperatures are critically high.

“Several climate change variables can affect pika populations, including extremely hot or cold days, average summer temperatures, and duration of snow cover.  In general, pika biologists agree that temperatures below the habitat surface, such as in loose rock area crevices, better approximate the conditions experienced by pikas because they rely on subsurface habitat to escape hotter summer daytime temperatures and obtain insulation during the colder winter months. Therefore, surface temperatures may not be as useful as subsurface temperatures for predicting the effects of climate change on pika populations…”

The paper continues, noting that their finding suggest pika will survive in the Great Basin as well as in areas such as Bodie, California and in the hot climates of Craters of the Moon (Idaho) and Lava Beds National Monuments (California). They say that pikas persist at these sites because they reduce activity during hot mid-day temperatures by retreating to significantly cooler conditions under the loose rock areas and perform daily activities during the cooler morning and evening periods. Despite altering their behavior in response to high temperatures, pikas can maintain high birth and low mortality rates.

Obviously there are different theories regarding the future of the pika and although I’m inclined to place more credence in the finding of Mr. Beever, I hope the USFW is correct. Pikas are diminishing in number from Glacier National Park (as well as the park’s glaciers!) as well as from the Great Basin. I also hope enough of these charismatic little creatures survive to ultimately replenish their kind.



*Badwater, Where An Entire River Can Disappear


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