Warming threatens pika population

A local resident is facing trying times. The American pika, a small, alpine-dwelling relative of the rabbit, has been imperiled by global warming and is currently being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The American pika lives in boulder fields near mountain peaks in the Western United States. Adapted to cold alpine conditions, pikas are intolerant of high temperatures and can die from overheating when exposed to temperatures as low as 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Global warming threatens pikas by exposing them to heat stress, lowering food availability in the mountain meadows where they forage, reducing the amount of time when they can gather food, and reducing the insulating snowpack during winter.

More than a third of documented pika populations in the Great Basin mountains of Nevada and Oregon have disappeared in the past century as temperatures have warmed, and those that remain are found an average of 900 feet further upslope. The continued rise in temperatures is expected to eliminate the pika from large regions of the American West.

“As temperatures rise, pika populations at lower elevations are being driven to extinction, pushing pikas further upslope until they have nowhere left to go,” said Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Pikas are in urgent need of the protections of the federal and state Endangered Species Acts, which have a proven track record of success in protecting imperiled wildlife.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently launched a full status review to determine whether the pika should land on the endangered list. The study comes in response to a scientific petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity in 2007 seeking protection for the species, followed by a 2008 lawsuit against the Service for failing to respond to the petition. As a result of the suit, the USFWS is required to decide whether the pika will be designated as an endangered species by Feb. 1 of next year.

 “We are pleased that the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to take the pika’s plight seriously,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The pika’s shrinking habitat is a harbinger of what may happen to many species if we don’t address global warming now.”

Durangoans have an opportunity to take a closer look at the plight of the pika next week. The Mountain Studies Institute will present a seminar lead by Liesl Peterson on July 30 in 130 Nobel Hall at Fort Lewis College. Peterson has studied pika populations from Santa Fe, N.M., to Laramie, Wyo., and her findings may influence whether or not the species will be protected under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, her research may indicate whether or not pika populations are being negatively impacted by global climate change. The session is scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Visit www.mountainstudies.org for details.


County asks for community’s vision

Local residents are being asked to put their spin on the future of the greater Durango area. La Plata County is hosting a Visioning Workshop this week. The Saturday session is part of the ongoing Comprehensive Community Plan Update and the first step toward establishing a community vision for La Plata County.  

Such a vision will form the backbone of the Comprehensive Plan, define the shared values residents have in common and articulate what the community desires for the future. While the visioning process includes six open houses to help residents identify their shared values and aspirations for La Plata County, the full day Visioning Workshop will be the most interactive event. The workshop will provide the greatest opportunity for neighbors and community members to discuss and understand other perspectives.

Erick Aune, La Plata County’s director of planning, noted that the region has seen sweeping changes in recent years. The local population has increased 159 percent since 1970 and is estimated to have increased 13.2 percent – nearly 6,000 residents – since completion of the current Comprehensive Plan in 2001. 

“This rapid change demands the County to step back periodically to make sure we are on the right course,” Aune said. “The Comprehensive Plan update will allow us to review where we are in light of new growth … We really want the community to be engaged in this process.”

The Visioning Workshop will meet at the Durango Recreation Center from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on July 25. Lunch and licensed child care will be provided for this event at no charge for participants. E-mail mcurgus@sonoraninstitute.org to RSVP.

San Juan wilderness plan unveiled

A giant new wilderness designation could be en route to the San Juan Mountains. This week, U.S. Rep. John Salazar unveiled a public draft of his proposed San Juan Mountains Wilderness Legislation. The proposed bill includes 63,475 acres of public land in San Miguel, Ouray and San Juan counties. The lands would gain the highest possible public lands protection if they pass Congressional muster.

Under this proposed legislation the following areas would become designated wildereness:

- 3,374 acres in the existing Lizard Head Wilderness Area.

-22,310 acres in the existing Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Area

-8,614 acres in the McKenna Peak Wilderness Study Area

-22,582 acres would be designated as the Sheep Mountain Special Management Area. Currently permitted uses, including helisking, would be allowed to continue indefinitely, but no new roads or other development will be permitted.

In addition, the Hardrock 100 would be allowed to continue in the designated areas as would grazing.


Economic Recovery Team visits town

Economic recovery is paying Durango a visit this week. The Governor’s Economic Recovery Team will hold a July 24 meeting locally and offer a glimpse for how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will impact La Plata County.

The Recovery Team is tracking federal funds coming to Colorado from the Recovery Act, the most complex, wide-reaching federal law passed by Congress in decades.

This Friday, the governor’s staff will meet with members of the public at the Durango Public Library from 10 a.m.-noon. In addition, Maranda Pleau, the director of minority and small business outreach, will be available to meet business owners.

Over the next two years, Colorado could receive more than $7 billion. So far, millions of dollars from the Recovery Act have already been used to increase unemployment benefits, reduce taxes for working families, and keep public schools operating in the face of dwindling tax revenue. Major highway projects have also started and dozens more public works projects will begin in the next few months.

More information is online  at www.colorado.gov/recovery

– Will Sands




In this week's issue...

July 21, 2022
Wildlife success or deal with the devil?

Land swap approved in Southwest Colorado, but not without detractors

July 21, 2022
Tapping out

The latest strategy to save the San Luis Valley's shrinking aquifer: paying farmers not to farm

July 14, 2022
Hey, good environmental news

Despite SCOTUS ruling, San Juan Generating Station plans to shut down