Is it hot in here or am I just a pika?


We all know that the polar bear's existence is threatened by global warming. But what about species that don't live on polar ice? How about, say, a species that lives in California? Could an animal in the middle of the continent really die simply because the world gets a little bit hotter?

Yup. Case in point, the American pika. This tiny, increasingly rare relative of the rabbit lives in cold mountain peaks in the United States, where it has adapted to a very specific temperature range. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the pika "can die from overheating when exposed to temperatures as low as 80°F for just a few hours."

The CBD and Earthjustice yesterday filed two lawsuits -- one federal, one in California -- to protect the pika from global warming. Previous petitions to protect the 36 known pika subspecies have gone unanswered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed its legally mandated deadline to respond to the CBD's petition, while the California Fish and Game Commission has said that "facilitating adaptation to climate change" is not within its mandate. (The CBD says this statement is contrary to existing state laws.)

Of course, winning these lawsuits won't be easy. Just last week, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announced new regulations which would make it impossible for anyone to use the Endangered Species Act to protect a species by regulating greenhouse gases. (The public now has less than 30 days to comment on these and other proposed regulation changes, which you can find out how to do here.)

Previous research has shown that pika are already abandoning some of their previous habitats for higher altitudes, where they will stay cooler. But that's a temporary measure, and puts further stresses on the species. Meanwhile, their habitats and their sources of food continue to shrink. How much longer will it take before they have nowhere left to go?

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