It didn’t take long for 11-year-old Brooke Pollock to spot a pika on Loveland Pass last July.
One of the hamster-like critters darted between boulders, its cheeks stuffed with grass and leaves. Soon other pikas chirped from atop the rocks, warning their comrades to the human intruders.
“They’re just really cute,” laughed Pollock. “They look like little furry potatoes with big ears.”
Pollock was among dozens of volunteers training for the Front Range Pika Project last summer. For almost a decade, the Denver Zoo and nonprofit Rocky Mountain Wild have sent hikers to places where the rabbit-relatives have historically thrived. The goal is to gain a clearer picture of the pika population as Colorado warms, along with rest of the planet.
“We’re concerned they’re prone to disappearing due to climate change, but we don’t have enough information to know that,” said Megan Mueller, a project co-director with Rocky Mountain Wild.
The project was born in 2010 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act. Federal biologists cited studies saying pikas could adapt to warmer temperatures but acknowledged a need for more research.
While the FRPP has amassed just that sort of data, it’s also designed to help Coloradans connect to climate change. The number of volunteers has skyrocketed from about 40 in 2016 to 79 in 2018. Some joined because they like hiking. Others because they missed their undergraduate biology classes. Most cited concerns about rising global temperatures.
Pollock’s father serves on the Rocky Mountain Wild board. She had her parents sign her up after learning about the peril pikas could face in a changing climate.
“I don’t want these guys to die. That would be so sad and it would be a loss because of what humans are doing with climate change ” She paused, looking across the field of jagged rocks. “Because that’d be my species that killed…killed the pikas.”
Read more at Colorado Public Radio.