Pocketful of pikas

American pikas are getting global-warmed over.

American pikas are getting global-warmed over.

Photo By earthjustice

Auntie Ruth is the first to admit a fondness for small animals. Long before Paris was a gleam in Dick Hilton’s eye, Auntie was stuffing her pockets with stray kittens and puppies, as well as small rodents caught during long hikes high in the Sierra Nevada. Auntie particularly preferred American pikas, those lovable little balls of fur that look something like a cross between a mouse, a rabbit and one of those tribbles from Star Trek. Sadly, Auntie hasn’t seen a pika in years, and now she thinks she knows why. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, global warming is jacking up the temperature of the tiny creature’s habitat and has already caused a dramatic decline in the pika population, which extends throughout the upper Sierra from the Mexican to Canadian border. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has begun a yearlong study of the pika’s status. It’s the first mammal in the continental United States to be considered for protection because of global warming. Undoubtedly it won’t be the last.

Auntie Ruth is also the first to admit when she’s made a mistake. A couple of weeks ago, she told you the Jibboom Junkyard down by old Sacramento rail yard recently had been removed from the list of the nation’s most toxic Superfund sites. That’s true, but only if you define “recently” as 1991. It seems Jibboom is just a small portion of the massive, 30-year effort to clean up the entire rail yard.

Why is Auntie so interested in the status of Superfund sites? Well, we’ve got no shortage of them here in Sacramento—the closed-down McClellan and Mather Air Force bases, to name but two of the worst—and in most cases, some of the most toxic chemicals known to man were dumped straight into the ground, contaminating local aquifers. Don’t think Proposition 65, “The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986,” protects you on this one. Last week, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club won a tentative ruling to add up to 90 workplace chemicals to the list of toxins prohibited by Prop. 65. But it’s a safe bet the issue will be back in court before it’s ever enforced.