LOS ANGELES – It's cute, it's furry and some conservationists say it may soon be extinct because of global warming. But should the American pika be placed on the endangered species list?
Yes it should, says Shaye Wolf, a biologist with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. The center has sued the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife to grant endangered species status to the pika, a runty relative of the rabbit that lives in the rocky areas of the Northwest.
The rodent-sized creature has thick fur and is unable to survive in temperatures much warmer than 80 degrees.
"The things that we need to do to protect the pika will also protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, our own quality of life and improve our economy," Wolf says.
But an endangered species distinction carries with it a slew of tough federal environmental restrictions with serious ramifications for businesses across the U.S.
"If these groups succeed, you're talking about using the courts to impose a policy agenda essentially making illegal the source of the vast majority of our energy and therefore economic activity," said Chris Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of several books critical of climate-change activists.
Horner worries that restrictions on energy production would mandate a sharp cut in greenhouse gases and a regulation of carbon in the atmosphere, forcing businesses, manufacturers and energy producers to shut down across the country.
Pika partisans, however, say that measures to protect the hamster-like animal would benefit humans as well. They say a healthy species is an indicator of a healthy planet.
"The pika is a canary in the coal mine for global warming," said Wolf, "so declines of the pika are an early warning of what's to come if we don't immediately reduce our greenhouse gas pollution."
The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife has until May to determine if it has enough evidence to support a full review of the endangered species request. Critics are hoping this branch of the Interior Department will refrain from setting energy policy.
"This is the ultimate regulatory train wreck if you are going to have the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service try to 'gently' administer to the economy to back out of fossil fuels from our energy mix," Horner told FOX News.