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News / Northwest

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks public input on pygmy rabbit status

By Katie Garcia, The Wenatchee World
Published: June 7, 2024, 12:47pm

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks public input on whether to keep the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit on the state’s endangered species list.

Having not reached the population, distribution, or security criteria for downlisting, the WDFW staff recommend Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits remain on the endangered species list.

Previously considered extinct in Washington in 2004, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit was reintroduced through captive breeding and translocation programs, but there is still more work to do to establish a stable and growing population of the pygmy rabbit in the state of Washington, according to WDFW staff.

In September 2023, 650 acres in the Chester Butte Unit of the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area in Douglas County was purchased by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission.

“The sale is complete,” said Jon Gallie, WDFW wildlife biologist. “Unfortunately, that area was burned up in the 2020 Pearl Hill Fire.”

The Pearl Hill Fire of 2020 wiped out half of the remaining Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit population in the area.

“All of the sagebrush in that habitat were destroyed,” Gallie said. “It will take about 20 years for the sagebrush to grow and mature enough for the rabbits to grow there.”

“Although burned in the 2020 Pearl Hill Fire, this property has the potential to provide critical habitat for pygmy rabbits and other shrubsteppe species of concern.” said Gerald Hayes, another wildlife biologist with the WDFW.

Known as the smallest rabbit species in North America, the pygmy rabbit is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The population of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, “despite a long history of collaborative recovery efforts in Washington,” is still “vulnerable to climate change impacts and to the threat of habitat loss and degradation,” according to a release from the WDFW.

When asked why the pygmy rabbit species should remain on the endangered species list, Hayes said, “The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit remains seriously threatened with extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range within the state. Since pygmy rabbits have not reached the population, distribution, or security criteria in the Washington State Recovery Plan for downlisting, WDFW is recommending that the species remain state-listed as endangered.”

A public comment period will be open until Aug. 27. People can email or mail comments to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife ATTN: Taylor Cotten, P.O. Box 43141, Olympia, WA 98504.

After the public comment period, WDFW staff will finalize the Periodic Status Review and brief the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission on the recommendation.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission is scheduled to consider the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit endangered species status and Periodic Status Review in the fall.

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