Volunteers needed to check pikas

Warm temperatures may be pushing rabbit relative out of its alpine home

The Mountain Studies Institute is offering to train people to monitor the pika, a tiny relative of the rabbit that is being pushed out of its alpine home by warming temperatures.

Emily Olson, education coordinator for the institute, is the instructor for the training, scheduled from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Durango Discovery Museum, 1333 Camino del Rio.

A similar training session is scheduled at the same time at Ridgway Public Library.

“We want to engage the public in understanding what is happening in the environment,” Olson said.

The pika, a herbivore 6 to 8 inches long and about 6 ounces, tends to inhabit boulder fields above the tree line in the Rocky Mountains.

Unable to tolerate heat, the pika appears to be moving to higher elevations as global temperatures warm.

An Associated Press story last year said animals around the world are seeking cooler climes faster than they did fewer than 10 years ago.

About 2,000 species are fleeing the equator at an average rate of 15 feet a day, the AP story said. Species looking for higher mountain abodes are moving up in elevation at an average of 4 feet a year, the story said.

“So far, the pika population in the Rocky Mountains seems to be doing OK,” Olson said. “But monitoring will help determine its status.”

The pika has not been listed as endangered or threatened, Olson said.

After a day of training, it’s hoped that participants will visit their adopted pika-monitoring site on Sunday or the coming week, Olson said.

Thirty sites in Southwest Colorado should be home to pikas, Olson said. Some are close to roads and some require hiking.

The Mountain Studies Institute collaborates on the pika program with the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and the San Juan Public Lands Center.

Rocky Mountain Wild and the Denver Zoo conduct a pika program also.

Olson requests interested people register with the Mountain Studies Institute in advance in order to help calculate how much equipment it will need to bring to the workshop.

daler@durangoherald.com

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