#131313: Code Black

An experiment in giving

Project 6: Plight of the Pikas

Listen up people!!

’cause little Pikachu here has something important to say about Climate Change, and you can’t afford to miss it.

Roar

the mouse who roared

Wait, what?

Just what IS that thing? Is that a mouse?

and… Pikachu?? From Pokémon??

In the words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain.”

“No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

In 1995, a small group of people in northern Japan started a grass-roots effort to protect the habitat of an oddly charming little creature, known as a Pika, from the perils of urban sprawl. They even went so far as to sue the government, and they won.

The Pikas of Hokkaido are the only ones in all Japan, and their plight made a bit of a splash in local media. When the universe of Pokémon debuted one year later, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that their most popular character just so happened to look remarkably like, well, a Pika.

While ‘Pikachu’ loosely translates as “electric mouse”, those of us who are long-time fans of Anime realize two things: The first is that Anime makers are, collectively, strong proponents of conservationism. The second is that they love their puns, the more deeply layered, the better. However, as much as I love Anime, I only learned anything about Pikachu because of my younger brother’s obsession with the Pokémon trading cards (in his defense, he was very young at the time). So it was that I knew all about Pikachu, long before I ever knew such a creature as a Pika existed. It wasn’t until 2003 that I first laid eyes on one.

Alpine meadow at Logan Pass (photo linked from Wikipedia under the creative commons license)

In 2003 I met Mr. Man from Montana (not his real name), currently known as The Husband. 7 months later, he asked me to come home with him. In this case, ‘home’ was a small Montana town where his family lives, and his house just outside of Glacier Park. Since I’d never been to Montana before, he took me over the Going To The Sun highway, and up to Logan Pass. It was there that I saw my first Pika, inside the visitor’s center, in a glass display case. I stood before the case, studying the Pika. Reading the placard. Looking back at the Pika. Finally, I said to myself, “Oh, so that’s where Pikachu came from.” And that was that.

Or so I thought.

Leaving the visitor’s center, we walked up the Hidden Lake trail intending to go as far as the overlook, but I never made it. Instead I found myself stunned by the view from the trial itself: mountain peaks standing like soliders lined up for review, keeping guard over the pass. The tail end of Saint Mary Lake just peaking from behind the skirts of Going To The Sun mountain. And even more astonishing, what I’d first taken to be simply close-cropped grass, turned out to be an enormous field of diminutive wild flowers, of infinite variety and colors. These held me entranced, rooted to the spot, I couldn’t go any further. I had never seen an alpine meadow before, and I never wanted to leave the one I now found myself in.

Standing alone, listening to the wind, completely still for I don’t know how long, I suddenly shifted my weight and heard …something… shout behind me. Looking around, I couldn’t see what had made the noise, so I turned back to the view. Soon enough I heard it again, so I turned fully around to look for the culprit. A little patience was rewarded with the sight of the most adorable creature I’d ever seen, just beyond range of the trail, scurrying about in the meadow, occasionally pausing to admonish me when I tried to convince it to come close enough for a photo (which never did turn out). I must have spent close to an hour watching that little guy before Mr. Man finally found me.

Pika

Roughly the same size as a Guinea Pig, a Pika is not, in fact, a mouse; he just happens to look like one (well, like one who lost the fight with the farmer’s wife, at any rate.) The Pika is actually the smallest member of the rabbit family. He’s also a living fossil from the Ice Age, and there in lies the problem: Pikas are cool climate creatures, who can’t survive more than a few minutes in temperatures over 80 degrees. Sadly, this heat sensitivity makes the Pika a natural ‘canary in the coal mine’ for monitoring the impact of Climate Change on high mountain ecosystems, and the rates at which global warming are forcing change on animal behavior and survival.

As the glaciers receded after the Ice Age, the Pika receded with them, to the high mountain tops of Asia and the western United States. As our climate grows warmer (so much faster than anyone expected), where is there left to go, when you already live on the roof of the world? In 2010, there was a petition in California to declare the Pika an endangered species; the measure failed to pass. The glaciers of Glacier Park are nearly gone; the American Pika may not be far behind them. Just as with the Polar Bears, we are poised to see an entire spices go extinct for what many people mistakenly believe is ‘nothing more’ than a few degrees of difference in temperature.

pika2

An unexpected death in the family this weekend past turned Mr. Man and my attention firmly to Montana, and left us feeling the distance keenly; the inability to be there to comfort and to mourn with friends and family. Sharing remembrances of a beloved family member brought to mind my first trip out there, my first meeting with these warm-hearted people who would soon become my family, too. It was in this state of mind that I found the next project for Code Black: The Plight of the Pika.

In 2010, the National Park Service funded Climate Change Impact studies on the American Pika across the western United States. In the two years that the Pikas In Peril project has been running, regional research groups and non-profits used this funding to recruit, train and coordinate large groups of Citizen Scientists, every-day volunteers and nature lovers who underwent training in order to to collect data on Pika habitat identification and changes, while maintaining proper scientific collection methods. As with so many worthwhile programs laid bare by recent cuts, the funding for these programs has been decimated, but the need for this research remains.

April Craighead is a wildlife biologist with the Craighead Institute of Bozeman, Montana who is researching Pika habitat in the Greater Yellowstone region. The Craighead Institute has also taken on a major role in coordinating the information gathered across the state for the NPS. Her campaign on RocketHub is to raise the funds necessary to retool and continue the recruitment and training program for Citizen Scientists participating in the Montana Pika Survey. Even without access to federal funding, April knows that this important research must continue if we are ever to have a clear understanding of what global warming is doing to our environment. And if the Pikas are to have any hope of surviving Climate Change, new habitat must be found for them to live in.

If you’ve been following this blog, you should recall that my last project talked about how my youthful dreams for college were confounded, but I never mentioned what it was I’d hoped to major in, or what I wanted to be when I ‘grew up’.  I invite you now to take a good look at what April Craighead is doing, because that’s pretty close to what I was trying to become: I wanted to be a wildlife veterinarian, to rehabilitate wounded animals and study the illnesses that can wipe out regional populations.

For having the tenacity to not give up especially in the face of loosing her funding, for engaging the community to become active participants in climate and wildlife study, for reminding me of the first moment I really fell in love with Montana, and for all my friends and family who live out there, Code Black has just funded The Plight of the Pika.

3 comments on “Project 6: Plight of the Pikas

  1. Pingback: Updates: Pending Projects | #131313: Code Black

  2. Pingback: Project Update: iPad for Literacy is FULLY FUNDED! | #131313: Code Black

  3. Pingback: Project Updates | #131313: Code Black

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2013 by in Projects and tagged , , , , .
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