Scientists are finding evidence pikas are making a comeback in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Oregon Zoo’s Cascades Pika Watch has data that indicates the pint-sized pikas’ populations in the gorge are increasing after the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire.

American pikas are small mammals related to rabbits, known for their distinctive, high-pitched calls. 

“We still aren’t seeing numbers as high as before the fire, but things are definitely looking up,” Oregon Zoo’s Amanda Greenvoss said in a press statement.

Pika

Community scientists and volunteers examined sites affected by the fire and were able to detect the small mammals at 45 out of 52 sites surveyed — more than doubling their estimated numbers from last year.

“Due to their small size and their ability to blend in with their rocky habitat, pikas can be really tricky to see, especially if you don’t know what to look for,” Greenvoss said. “We’re fortunate to have dedicated volunteers with Cascades Pika Watch who know how to spot them in the wild.”

According to deputy conservation manager David Shepherdson at the Oregon Zoo, these pikas are special. They live at much lower elevations than other pika populations in the United States.

“We anticipate that they will expand back into a lot of those areas that they were eliminated from and that we didn’t see them in the first year or two of the project, so it will be fascinating to see how they do spread back from that,” Shepherdson said.

The Cascades Pika Watch program received a $24,100 grant from the U.S. Forest Service. The funds help pay for surveys and data collection of potential trends in pika populations. The zoo’s pika proposal was one of four awarded money in 2018 and was ranked first out of 168 qualified projects around the country.