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Groundhog Day Predictions for Small Mammals

A new report takes a detailed look at important small mammal species, such as the groundhog, and the risks they face if climate action is not taken. (Groundhog/Wikimedia Commons)
February 2. 2016
A new report takes a detailed look at important small mammal species, such as the groundhog, and the risks they face if climate action is not taken. (Groundhog/Wikimedia Commons)

DENVER - Groundhog Day predictions have never been 100 percent accurate, but for a growing number of small mammals, a changing climate is already having an impact.

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation turns the spotlight away from Punxsutawney Phil to flying squirrels, pikas, the American pine marten and other critters facing serious threats as habitats shrink and food becomes scarce.

Andrew Gulliford, a hunter and environmental studies professor at Fort Lewis College, says warmer temperatures mean trouble for the snowshoe hare.

"As the climate seems to be warming, the snowshoe hares keep showing up white when there's no snow," says Gulliford. "And of course, if you're white and the forest is still green, coyotes are going to find you."

Gulliford explains the rabbit's protective camouflage is now a liability, because molting is based on hours of daylight, not the amount of snow.

The report also found armies of armadillos could be headed north, bad news for other nesting species like quail if action isn't taken to prevent a warming planet.

The study also shows that the lynx - listed in 2000 as a threatened species in the Lower 48 states - and the arctic fox both are threatened by loss of habitat and food sources.

Gulliford says the pika, known for being vulnerable to hot summers, is being forced to higher elevations, and if temperatures continue to rise populations throughout the west are expected to disappear.

"Everybody loves seeing these when we're out hiking and climbing in the summer," he says. "These mammals need a certain high alpine habitat. They're going to be driven north - well, there's only so far you can go to the top of a mountain."

Gulliford says implementing the EPA's Clean Power Plan and rules limiting methane emissions are a good start at tackling climate change, and making sure Punxsutawney Phil will still be around to make predictions.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO