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Mountain pika may make endangered list

BOB BERWYN
summit daily news

SUMMIT COUNTY – Responding to citizen petitions and lawsuits by environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced it will consider adopting strict protections for 29 plant and animal species in the western U.S.

Conservation groups said the decision is a step forward in addressing what they call a global biodiversity crisis. Impacts from population growth, development, natural resource exploitation and climate change have speeded up the pace of species extinctions in recent decades, leading to what leading conservation biologists are calling a tidal wave of extinction.

“We’re pleased that the Service will consider these animals and plants for federal protection, as they are all critically imperiled. What they need now is actual listing under the Endangered Species Act – until this happens, they have no protections,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, the wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians.

The group prompted the review decision with petitions to the federal agency. The species must now undergo a status review to determine whether they warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. According to WildEarth Guardians, there are thousands of additional species in the U.S. that are imperiled but haven’t yet been considered for listing.

“To catch up with the biodiversity crisis in the U.S., the Service needs to be listing dozens of species at once,” Rosmarino said. “There is a huge gap between endangered species recognized by the government versus ones viewed by scientists as imperiled. The federal list only includes about 20 percent of the species scientists consider at risk.”

Of the 29 species the Service will be reviewing, 20 are plants, one is a fish, two are insects, and six are snails. The species are spread across 21 U.S. states and parts of Canada. Nearly all of these plants and animals are threatened by the loss or degradation of their habitat. The Service also found that climate change is a threat for several of these species.

The mist forestfly (Lednia tumana), for example, depends on glacier-fed streams in Glacier National Park for survival. The streams are under threat from rising temperatures. Scientists predict all glaciers in Glacier National Park will disappear by 2030

“The mist forestfly is like a tiny polar bear; its existence is tied to habitat that is melting away due to the climate crisis. This forestfly deserves federal protection, and its recovery must entail defense of the glaciers in Glacier National Park,” Rosmarino said, explaining how climate change threatens species that rely on small slivers of high mountain habitat that are especially susceptible to climate change.

Similarly, the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protection for the pika, a small mammal related to rabbit that – for now – is still a common animal in the High Country. But like some of the other species under consideration for listing, the pika’s range is so small that even a relatively small change in climate is likely to wipe out most of the areas where the animals can live.

The federal agency will also revisit threats to wolverines – rare alpine scavengers that survives in remote areas of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. In its revised wolverine study, announced a few months ago, federal biologists will consider new scientific information about the projected effects of climate change on the Rocky Mountains and Northwest.

The wolverine’s range closely correlates with areas that maintain spring snowpack, which provides shelter for female wolverines to birth and raise their young until they are weaned in May. Human-induced climate change is expected to reduce spring snowpack in the western mountains, which may significantly reduce wolverine habitat. The lower 48 wolverine population is also threatened by trapping, human disturbance, and fragmentation of their alpine habitat.

To see the full list of 29 species to be considered for protection go to: http://bit.ly/OeroW.

Go to http://bit.ly/2K0w4s to see a computer model of how habitat and vegetation in the Rocky Mountains is changing as temperatures increase.


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