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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to acquire 650 more acres near Mansfield for pygmy rabbits


YAKIMA — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission recently approved acquiring about 650 acres in the Chester Butte Unit of the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area in Douglas County to promote the recovery of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, Columbian sharp-tailed and greater sage-grouse.

The decision Sept. 29 in Yakima is meant to help protect the shrubsteppe habitat, which is home to many species, including the pygmy rabbit, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, greater sage-grouse, ferruginous hawk, sage thrasher, Brewer’s sparrow, vesper sparrow, sage sparrow, white-tailed jackrabbit and Washington ground squirrel, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The cost is $230,000, covered by a Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund grant from United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The required match will be provided in the form of land acquired with the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, Critical Habitat category grant, through the Recreation and Conservation Office. Operation and maintenance costs are expected at $125 per acre, or $81,250 annually.

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits were listed as endangered in 2003 and reintroduction activities began in 2011. The rabbits are specific to two small regions of the planet: southern Douglas and northern Grant counties in Washington state.

In 2001, WDFW caught the last 16 wild pygmy rabbits for its captive breeding program. Beezley Hills, north of Crescent Bar, and Sagebrush Flats, north of Ephrata, are the two locations the rabbits are raised, with some of the juveniles taken to two other sites or released just outside of the enclosures.

In the last 13 years, the program has seen success by adding two wild populations that expand annually into new areas. However, the bunnies’ habitat is threatened by wildfires.

The new acreage will add to the existing 2,262-acre Chester Butte Unit of the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area, about 7 miles southeast of Mansfield and 13 miles northwest of Coulee City. The area was acquired in 1998 as a Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) wildlife mitigation project to address the loss of shrubsteppe and riparian habitats resulting from the construction of the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams, according to the WDFW.