KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR PIKA! A NEW INDEPENDENT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY

Which local high-altitude specialist is the size of a potato, has a teddy-bear face and large round ears, enjoys picking wildflowers, and screams “EEEEEE” like a squeaky plush toy? You guessed it–the American pika.

Pika are the smallest members of the lagomorph (rabbit) family. They are covered in a thick tan, brown, and black coat that acts as camouflage among the rocks and allows them to stay warm in the subalpine and alpine terrains they typically inhabit. Rock faces, rock slides, talus slopes, and cliffs are their preferred home.

 

An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest
An example of talus slope (pika habitat) in the Indian Heaven Wilderness within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

It’s easy to understand why the American pika is a favorite of many hikers in the western United States and Canada. But these undeniably adorable animals are in trouble.

Pika are sensitive to changes in climatic conditions. The summer months are an important time for collecting grasses and wildflowers, which are then dried into distinctive hay piles that will sustain the pika through the alpine winter. But foraging in high temperatures can be deadly for pikas. They have a temperature threshold of 78 degrees Fahrenheit and will not survive if they are exposed to high temperatures for too long. On hot days, pika are forced to limit the time they spend foraging to avoid over-exposure. The warmer temperatures brought about by climate change are making it more difficult for pika to gather enough food for the winter.

An American Pika perched on a rock
American pika photographed by supporter and volunteer, Michael Sulis

These changes are causing pika to move to even higher elevations. But many populations will soon find that they cannot go any higher. 

In many places, pika populations are declining. Gathering more data about current numbers and population trends is essential to understand what kinds of protections this species may need. Additionally, the ways in which pika respond to changes in the climate make them the perfect climate indicator species. Their climate sensitivity helps scientists infer the conditions in a particular habitat. That’s why Cascade Forest Conservancy has decided to join the Cascades Pika Watch collaboration and why we are launching a new program–a way for volunteers to make a difference for pika, independently and on their own schedules! 

Cascades Pika Watch is a collaboration between the Oregon Zoo and the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. They have led highly successful projects counting and studying pika for many years in the Columbia Gorge (the Columbia Gorge pikas live at lower elevations than anywhere in the United States!) and in the North Cascades. Unfortunately, there is currently a gap in pika data between those two project areas. Cascade Forest Conservancy will lead the efforts in southwest Washington to expand the study across a larger geographic area.

Watch Oregon Field Guide’s segment about Cascade Pika Watch and the pika in the Columbia Gorge

Help from volunteers will be critical for Cascade Forest Conservancy’s efforts to study pika in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Unlike CFC’s group trips, pika research offers volunteers the chance to make an impact while setting their own schedule and pace! No experience is necessary and any level of participation will help us fill in the data gaps about this charismatic climate change indicator species!

Pikas are a natural fit for independent citizen science. They are easily identifiable, are found in beautiful places, and offer invaluable information about environmental changes. We will be hosting volunteer training on June 11th. You can attend in person at our office in Vancouver or by joining our livestream (registration will open in February). During the training, we will go over:

  • Pika and habitat identification
  • Opportunistic observations vs. sitting surveys
  • Equipment checklist
  • Safety procedures
  • Volunteer guidelines 

Whether you’re going on a hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest to opportunistically observe pika, or you want to claim a survey spot within the forest to look and listen for pika (the sitting survey) this independent volunteer opportunity is just for you! 

If you have any recent pika observations that you’d like to share or if you want to get started before June, please email Amanda Keasberry, CFC’s Science and Stewardship Manager, at amanda(at)cascadeforest.org.

 

THANK YOU 2021 VOLUNTEERS!!

From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy, thank you to the many volunteers who joined our staff on science and restoration volunteer trips in 2021. Due in part to modifications and cancellations of a majority of our 2020 volunteer trips–we had a lot of goals to achieve in 2021. Volunteers stepped up in a big way, and we had a very successful field season! In total, we had 294 volunteers dedicate  2,235 hours to studying and improving habitats throughout the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Here is just a portion of what they accomplished:

    • Volunteers planted 7,275 Douglas fir and western redcedar at the Yellowjacket Creek/Cispus River restoration site where engineered logs jams were placed to improve salmon habitat. As the saplings grow and mature, they will help prevent streambank erosion, shade the stream, and add more nutrients into the water. Other trees, shrubs, sedges planted by volunteers this year were to improve habitat for threatened Oregon spotted frog, to help with post-fire recovery, and to revegetate areas where Hemlock dam once stood.

 

    • Volunteers removed decades of built-up debris from the bases of 105 old-growth ponderosa pines to protect these fire-resistant but shallow-rooted giants from future wildfires in dry mixed-conifer forests south of  Mount Adams. 

 

    • They improved aquatic habitat by constructing three beaver dam analogs, collected native seeds and utilized them to support natural cycles of rejuvenation in places slow to recover from a series of uncharastically high-intensity and unusually low-interval wildfires.

 

  • Volunteers trekked into some of the most remote corners of the forest to collect data from and reset 57 wildlife cameras (and placed 12 new ones) that are part of an ongoing study helping scientists better understand the needs of reintroduced forest carnivores–which will inform and guide future reintroduction efforts.

And much, much more.

The impacts of these efforts will continue to grow and reverberate through the ecosystems of our region for decades to come. We simply could not accomplish all that we do without the help of these volunteers–but that isn’t all we are grateful for. Thank you volunteers for great conversations shared around camp after hard days of work, for jokes and stories that lightened heavy loads, and mostly, for reminding us all once again that when people who care for our shared home come together to work for its benefit, there is nothing we can’t do. From all of us here at Cascade Forest Conservancy to every single person who participated in a volunteer science and restoration trip in 2021, thank you.