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)



On November 8th, I joined our project partners from Washington State University to check on a family of three beavers that we released in a tributary of the Lewis River earlier in the year. This was our last check of 2021.

On the morning of the trip, we were excited to find out that the forecast had changed. Instead of rain, it was going to be a cold but sunny day!  Typically, we can drive right up to the release site—a beautiful headwater pond with a view of Mt. St. Helen’s in the distance. As we rounded curves and gained elevation, we began to see some snow. At first, we weren’t concerned—it is not bizarre to see a couple inches of snow going into the mountains in early November. But as we made our way past a sno-park, that two inches of snow quickly grew to 4 inches and then to 8 inches. We no longer felt comfortable driving the SUV further up the road, but that wasn’t going to stop us from this final opportunity to check on this family of beavers.

We backtracked to the sno-park where we each confessed that we had not looked at the snow report. To reach the release site now meant we had to walk 5 miles in the snow. I was ill-equipped for this journey (I did not pack my snow boots for this trip), but we really needed to take environmental eDNA samples and place the wildlife camera. We all bundled up in the gear we had brought, and made our way to the snowy creek.

Image: A snowy pond near the beaver release site.

The beavers at this site had been released in the summer. We trapped them from a landowner’s property in Vancouver, WA. The beaver family had actually been causing damage for years; a culvert that was supposed to drain any excess water was completely underwater due to all of the dams that the beavers had created and maintained. The dams also caused flooding during parts of the year, blocking a county road that a neighbor needed to access their driveway. We believe in promoting solutions that enable people to live harmoniously with beavers. But in an urban environment, that isn’t always possible. The homeowner had a permit to notch the dams, but beavers will repair a dam overnight. For any substantial changes to be made to this overflowing wetland, the beavers were going to have to be removed. In a situation like this, relocation is the best option for the animals, which made it the perfect case for CFC to step in and move the family to the national forest where their construction work can be better appreciated confer beneficial effects to the surrounding areas. 

We worked with a local wildlife conflict specialist and set traps near one of the dams, an area that we knew the beavers would be frequenting. We got one beaver only a few days after setting the traps, but then things began to slow down. It sometimes takes a bit of time to trap beavers, and we can only house them in our holding facility for two weeks. We decided to release the one that we had, hoping it would get its family members shortly after. Luckily that is exactly what happened! We were able to reunite the three family members at the release site in August.

Image: A beaver in a live trap that was caught in Vancouver and moved to a new home in the forestRight before the releases, we outfitted the beavers with radio transmitters, so our WSU partner, Jesse Burgher, could track them via radio telemetry. The transmitters each have their own frequency, so when Jesse is out with the antenna, he can triangulate the location of each beaver. Beaver #1 was released in late July and was tracked for a week straight. Jesse would get her location during the day and at night. On two occasions, he ended up very close to her. Once he saw her climb up rocks in the creek and another time she ended up walking straight towards him on land. Beavers don’t have great eyesight and Jesse was standing very still, so it’s likely that she didn’t notice him. In that week of observing, beaver #1 made multiple bank dens (burrows in the stream banks) and food caches about a mile down from the release site.

Beaver release video

A couple of weeks later we released the rest of the family. Now all three beavers were being tracked via radio telemetry. Beaver # 2 decided to go off and explore soon after he was released, and we have not been able to track him since. Beavers are rather transient creatures and like to explore, especially in the summer and fall. Beaver #3, the youngest of the bunch, stayed right in the main pond where we had released him! Beavers become self-sufficient at a young age and this little one really proved that. For the next couple of months, beaver #1 and beaver #3 created even more food caches around the pond and downstream. Beaver #1 created a couple of more bank dens and beaver #3 took advantage of using a downed tree in the pond as refuge. Beaver #3 also repaired some holes in an old beaver dam near his downed log home. 

By October, Beaver #3’s transmitter was found tangled in the grass so we assume it fell out and that he was not preyed upon. There was also an increase in activity after the transmitter was found, including tiny lodges, so it’s safe to say he is still there continuing to make his home. A few weeks after that, Beaver #1’s transmitter also fell out. We hypothesize that the increase in creating food caches for the winter likely leads to the transmitter being pulled out. They are moving through more trees, brush, and/or grass, so the transmitters are getting caught. Even when a transmitter falls off, we still have beneficial data about the beaver’s movements for the first few months. We can still rely on visual surveys of the area to look for beaver activity like food caches, fresh chew, beaver slides, dams, and lodges. We will revisit the site in January (with snow gear!) to conduct visual surveys and check our wildlife cameras.

Image: a relocated beaver in its new forest home