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Tuesday,  July 23 , 2024

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News / Life / Pets & Wildlife

State wants public’s help in tracking pikas

By EMMA FLETCHER-FRAZER, Skagit Valley Herald
Published: July 5, 2024, 7:45am

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking the public’s help in tracking pikas — the small, hamster-like mammals related to rabbits.

Pikas live in rocky talus slopes throughout the state, including those in the North Cascades.

The department created a program several years ago to use the public’s observations to track the presence of pikas, and create baseline data.

The department can compare that data to the areas that pikas are present in 10 or 20 years, to understand where they may no longer live, or which areas they favor.

Generally living at high elevations, pikas are likely to be affected by climate change.

Given changes to snowpack, vegetation and temperature, “there’s some concern that they can’t go any higher … if they’re already at high elevations,” said Taylor Cotten, the Fish and Wildlife’s conservation assessment section manager.

Pikas are still relatively numerous and easy to find.

In the mountains above tree line, hikers often hear the animal’s signature “eee” noise before they see one.

Because pikas are easy to survey, they are also used as a “sentinel species” to track the health of alpine areas.

“If pikas aren’t doing well in those alpine habitats, we know that that system is probably in trouble,” Cotten said.

He said hikers and other recreationists often access backcountry areas where pikas live and that biologists aren’t visiting regularly.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to try to harness some community science and really tap into the passion that Washingtonians have for recreating outdoors and getting out into these high elevation, mountain habitats,” Cotten said.

Plus, “pikas are adorable,” he added.

The program has been going for four years, with a few dozen reports filled out each year, but it “hasn’t really had an opportunity to take off like we’re hoping it will in the next two of three years,” Cotten said.

Those interested in helping to track pikas can download the ArcGIS Survey 123 app and follow online instructions.