The Pika Protectors

Two brothers weigh in on the threat of global warming to pikas, chirpy relatives of rabbits.

Greg and Scott Loarie pose on rocks in pika territory

Greg and Scott Loarie are champions of the pika.

Siblings don’t always agree, but Greg and Scott Loarie are on the same page regarding pikas, the chirpy rabbit relatives that hop among alpine boulders. Scott, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, and Greg, an attorney with the law firm Earthjustice, insist pikas are in trouble in a warming West.

Q The government has ruled that pikas aren’t endangered by climate change.
A [Scott] Wrong decision. Pikas are common in some places, but nine of 26 populations we tracked in the Great Basin disappeared over the last decades. The Rockies and the Sierra Nevada will soon be a lot more like the Great Basin.

Q Are you sure climate is the culprit?
A [Scott] This decade included some of the warmest years on record, and we have good evidence that pikas in the Great Basin took their biggest hits when temperatures were hottest.

Q Why care about such small animals?
A [Greg] Pikas are marooned on mountains. There aren’t cooler places they can move to. They’re the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. Also, they happen to be fantastically cute. They’ve become a symbol of the high country.

Q They really chirp?
A [Scott] A pika’s warning is a metallic beep. It sounds as if it comes from a bird.

Q Where can people see pikas?
A [Greg] Island Lake near Elko, Nev. Pikas live close to the road at Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park, at Donner Pass, and at Bald Mountain Pass in northern Utah.

Photography by Melissa Barnes

This article was first published in July 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)