The pika, a wild critter that resembles a hamster, is doing well in the Colorado mountains. So well, in fact, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list the animal under the Endangered Species Act.
Despite a 2003 report that found global warming was causing a disappearance of the furry animals in Nevada’s Great Basin, researchers have found populations in Colorado are well distributed.
“In their primary habitat, mainly at and above timberline where there is lots of talus (slopes formed by loose rock), we find pikas almost everywhere we look,” said Amy Seglund, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife species conservation biologist. “We were even finding them in these little talus areas and at lower elevations where I never guessed pika would have lived.”
Pikas weigh just 4 ounces and spend the warm months gathering vegetation that will sustain them through the winter. They don’t hibernate. In a 10-week period, one pika will make 14,000 foraging trips — 25 per hour — to secure its food stash. They must fill their bellies nine times a day to keep up their energy.
In 2008, Seglund’s field crew surveyed 62 historical locations across the state to determine the presence of pikas. The animals were found in more than 90 percent of those sites, and since that study more than 900 occupied sites have been documented by the state agency.
Though temperatures in the West have been rising during the last 50 years, Seglund said, the mountains in the Great Basin are much different than Colorado’s.
In Colorado, the pikas have more available habitat, more moisture and summertime temperatures cool enough for them to thrive. The vast majority of available habitat for pika in Colorado is on high-elevation public land not heavily impacted by roads, grazing and other human activity.
“Global warming will present challenges for many animal species,” Seglund said, “but our study shows that Colorado’s pika populations, for now, are in good shape.”