Risk from global warming could put pika on endangered list

The furry little American pika has chalked up a significant victory in Sacramento federal court.

To settle a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally agreed to consider listing it as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In an order filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. approved the terms of the service's settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit corporation active in species and habitat protection in the Western states.

On Oct. 1, 2007, the center petitioned the secretary of the service's umbrella agency, the Department of Interior, to protect the pika with a listing, but got no response. The center then challenged that silence with a suit filed Aug. 19.

Fish and Wildlife has agreed to decide by May 1 whether the center presented information indicating a listing may be warranted. If that decision favors the pika, the service will undertake an intensive review of the scientific evidence and decide by February 2010 whether the pika deserves endangered-species protection. If the pika prevails at that stage, Fish and Wildlife will publish a proposed listing, which will be open to comment for a year. A final decision would then be made in February 2011.

Thick fur and a high metabolism allow pikas to remain active year-round in the rocky terrain high in the mountains of the West, but these same attributes leave them vulnerable to heatstroke at temperatures near or above 80 degrees. Scientific studies show rising temperatures as a result of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from pollution put the pika at risk of extinction.

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