Tag Archives: Mountain

A Mountain Man

billy barr in front of Gothic Mountain

billy barr in front of Gothic Mountain Photo Credit: Joanna Nasar

billy barr, 58, is a mountain man, but he is not a hermit.  True he lives in virtual solitude for the winter but his valley in Gothic, Colo. is his home.  He knows this valley better than most of us know the palm of our hands and has many friends in these mountains, even if some are seasonal like the scientists that work at the lab.

He first came to Gothic in 1972 to work at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory http://rmbl.org and he ended up staying. In 1973 he moved into a tiny shack. Since there was not much to do he says “I started recording everything in a notebook and I did it for years.”

For 33 years and counting he has been collecting data. At first is was just something to do but soon scientists took interest when they realized his data could be used in relation to climate change and species movements.  He takes four records each day.

He majored in environmental science at Rutgers in New Jersey where he says he was, “a complete misfit.”  Working at the lab was the perfect antidote. “It was quite and just a chance to get away from everything.”

He tries to keep track of the animal sightings each year and collects snow data.  He has been trapped in avalanches a bizillion times backcountry exploring.  He has a great deal of respect for the land and environment around him and pays attention to what it tells him.  barr is someone with the keen observational powers and humility.

More to come soon!

Check out this article in the Rocky Mountain News about barr: http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/local/article/0,1299,DRMN_15_4310966,00.html

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Protection for the Pika?

NPS photo

NPS photo

by Joanna Nasar

The American Pika could be one of the first high alpine animals listed as endangered because of climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit that aims to protect species that are in peril though public outreach and through existing laws. They are working to get the American Pika listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and the California Endangered Species Act. After petitions in October and August of 2007 were filed and no action was taken the center brought two lawsuit in 2008 (one against the California Fish and Game Commission, and one against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) to “compel the agencies to protect the American Pika” according to the center’s Web site.

Shaye Wolf, staff biologist for the center, is working to protect the pika because she believes it is endangered by climate change. “Species and ecosystems in high elevation areas stand out.  The pika is like the canary in the coal mine.  Pikas are early warning indicators,” she said.

One reason that pikas are in danger, she said, is because they have a very high body temperature normally. This high body temperature if raised only a few degrees can cause the animal to overheat and die.

“Pikas can’t withstand exposure to high temperatures,” she said.

Another reason is the “popping of the mountain effect.” Essentially as temperatures rise, pikas will move up the slope of the mountain where it is colder. Eventually, the pikas will not have anywhere to go.

However, there are populations of pikas that have managed to survive at much lower elevations. In Nevada, a population of low dwelling pikas was found.

But Wolf says that doesn’t mean all sub-species of pikas will be able to adapt to rapid climate change. “Pikas in some areas live in micro-climates at lower elevations like lava beds and ice caves. There are always exceptions to the rule,” she said.

Isolated pika populations on mountains, though, seem to be declining.

“This is about preventing pika extinction and preserving a sustainable quality of life,” she said. “We still have time to act but the window is closing.”

Watch a short YouTube video about pikas to learn more, hear its calls and see this animal in action.