California's Fish and Game Commission recently declared the American Pika a candidate species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA).
The Commission had rejected an earlier petition to list the Pika as threatened or endangered, but will now take up to 12 months to reevaluate the biological data and determine whether listing the Pika under CESA is warranted. The American Pika is an alpine species that lives virtually above the tree line in the Sierra Nevada and other high mountain ranges. It emerges only briefly in the summer to feast on budding alpine vegetation, and then survives harsh winters by hibernating deep within scree and boulder piles.
The petition to list the Pika cited global warming as the key threat to this species. The Pika, with its very fast metabolism, cannot withstand unseasonably warm summer temperatures. Unfortunately, data indicate that summer peak temperatures in the Sierra and other mountain ranges have been trending upwards toward the Pika's lethal tolerance level. Many point to climate change as the cause of the temperature trend, and some cite human greenhouse gas emissions and other activities as leading contributors to that change. What makes the Pika's potential listing under CESA so intriguing is that there really is no direct threat to the species from human activity due to its remote alpine habitat. Thus, listing it under CESA may be more symbolic than practical. However, if the Pika is listed under CESA, some may use that listing to challenge various human activities that purportedly jeopardize the Pika indirectly by contributing to climate change in the Pika's native mountain habitat. There is no indication CESA was intended to address such a diffuse threat to a species, and the law is ill-suited to the task. But this may offer an avenue for certain groups to seek to use CESA to achieve these ends. The Pika's status and the Commission's forthcoming listing determination merit attention for this very reason.
The Department of Fish and Game will submit a written report within a year, pursuant to Section 2074.6 of the Fish and Game Code, indicating whether the petition to list the Pika is warranted. Written comments related to the petition should be directed to the Fish and Game Commission, 1416 Ninth Street, Box 944209, Sacramento, California 94244–2090.
The Fish and Game Commission's Notice of Findings may be found here, at page 1826.
For more information regarding this matter, please contact Hanspeter Walter or the KMTG attorney with whom you normally consult.