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Climate Change and the Endangered Species Act: Building Bridges to the No-Analog Future

August 2009

Citation: 39 ELR 10735

Issue: 8

Author: J.B. Ruhl

I. Introduction

The pika is toast. More specifically, the American pika (Ochotona princeps) is running out of places to live, and global climate change appears to be the primary cause of its decline. This tiny rabbit-like species has the unfortunate trait of being remarkably well-adapted to the cold, high-altitude, montane habitat of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain ranges in the North American Great Basin. The pika's problem is that as global climate change causes surface temperatures to rise, the altitude below which pikas cannot find suitable conditions for survival also is rising.

The pika's recent decline and gloomy future call to mind the protective capacity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), often referred to as the "pit bull" of environmental laws. The United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the ESA for terrestrial and freshwater species, has identified over 1250 animal and plant species in the United States for protection and has exercised its regulatory authority throughout the nation to fulfill the statute's goal of conserving imperiled species. The ESA is credited with preventing the vast majority of protected species from ultimate extinction.

J.B. Ruhl is the Matthews & Hawkins Professor of Property at The Florida State University College of Law, Tallahassee, Florida.

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