Pygmy Rabbits Face Possible Last Stand In Washington

Photo Courtesy USFWS

Previous efforts to recovery pygmy rabbits to habitat in central Washington state have been conducted without success.  Now, biologists hope that releasing more captive rabbits into the wild will mean greater success:

Pygmy Rabbits Face Possible Last Stand In Washington OPB News

In north central Washington, scientists are trying once again to reintroduce a tiny endangered rabbit species into a big, predator-ridden landscape.

You may remember a previous post in which we reported Dr. Steve Herman’s experience of efforts to restore pygmy rabbits in Washington.

Judge overturns BLM grazing decision

This is what WWP calls “low hanging fruit”

Ely Sheep Grazing Allotments. The orange polygons represent bighorn sheep distribution and the red polygon represents the Warm Springs sheep trail. Click for larger view.

For the last several years I have been appealing grazing decision issued by the Ely District of the BLM and, over and over again, the District only considers alternatives which maintain the status quo even when they have identified problems on the allotments that are either caused by or exacerbated by livestock grazing.

The decision that was overturned and remanded back to the Ely District was for sheep grazing on 8 allotments encompassing 1.3 million acres of the Egan Field Office.  In their decision the BLM only considered two alternatives, one which would have renewed the previous 10-year decision without any changes; and one which would have renewed the permit with very minor changes in seasonal use, and placed very weak utilization standards on different components of the vegetation but kept the exact same number of grazing AUMs.  They didn’t consider a no grazing alternative or an alternative which would have reduced grazing levels at all.

Read the rest of this entry »

Obama: Pygmy Rabbit “not warranted” for ESA protections

Salazar Strikes Again, Denying Meaningful Protection for Imperiled Tiny Bunny of the Sagebrush Sea

Pygmy rabbit

The declining condition of the Sagebrush Sea has been highlighted on a couple of occasions over the past couple of weeks.  In recent Washington state news we learned that jackrabbits in sagebrush habitats are diminishingPygmy rabbits were rejected ESA protections by the Obama administration last week, and earlier last year Dr. Steven Herman remorsefully described his account of the extinction of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit:

Science is seldom followed in these endangered species “interventions”.  Politics trumps science -and conservation.

We need to remember the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit as an example of a form lost in part to the the insanity of Public Grazing.

The Sagebrush Sea is Dying

Significant threats to sagebrush habitat across the western landscape continue to threaten and diminish a variety of sagebrush obligate species.

Sagebrush habitat is among the most imperiled ecosystems in North America and the rate at which our unique western wildlife and fish communities are declining is truly alarming.

Attempting to bring the most relief in the least amount of time, environmentalists continue to push for Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for a number of umbrella species endemic to sagebrush habitats, including the grand-master of the Sagebrush Sea: the Greater Sage grouse.

Prioritizing these “umbrella” species is important, because when successfully listed, the protections secured these species will blanket entire ecosystems positively affecting the diversity of fish, wildlife, and environmental values which share the explicitly protected individuals’ habitat.  It’s like hitting a plethora of birds with one stone (bad analogy).

Ken Cole (age 11) holds pygmy rabbit

Pygmy Rabbits’ Race to Recovery

So it is with the charismatic, imperiled pygmy rabbit, North America’s tinniest bunny, and the only arboreal rabbit (climbs sagebrush) on Earth !

In 2003, a coalition of conservation groups petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list pygmy rabbits under the ESA.

In early 2008, the USFWS, responding to legal pressure from conservation groups, finally issued a positive 90-day finding for pygmy rabbits, initiating a more thorough assessment of whether to protect the bunny under the ESA.

The agency dragged its feet again, prompting Western Watersheds Project et al to provide a legal reminder, again, of its court ordered obligation to the bunny …

Unfortunately, just earlier this week Pygmy rabbits were denied Endangered Species Act protections by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Laura Zuckerman, Reuters

“We find there has been some loss and degradation of pygmy rabbit habitat range-wide, but not to the magnitude that constitutes a significant threat to the species,” Bob Williams, supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada, said in a statement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Western Watersheds sues to force decision on pygmy rabbits

Federal government is a year overdue deciding whether to protect the smallest rabbit-

Group sues to force decision on pygmy rabbits. By Nicholas K. Geranios. Associated Press Writer

Rabbits at Risk

Scientific American slide show tells and shows seven species-

Slide Show: Rabbits at Risk. By Coco Ballantyne. Scientific American.

One of the rabbits in the slide show, the Columbia Basin pygmy, is now in fact extinct. Brian Ertz and KT have written much on this forum about its demise.

Can America’s West stay wild?

Bunnies, cowboys, culture, economics, demographics, the West

Can America’s West stay wild? Christian Science Monitor

Between 1970 and 2000, nonlabor jobs fueled 86 percent of this growth. Mining, timber, and agriculture (including ranching) contributed only 1 percent. Now, 93 percent of jobs in the West have no direct link to public lands, says Rasker. But wilderness areas, in conjunction with infrastructure like airports, correlated closely with areas that saw the greatest growth.

related: The Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit Is Now Genetically Extinct

WWP win in Washington state underscores politicized wildlife management

Thurston County Superior Court has ruled in favor of Dr. Steve Herman and Western Watersheds Project deciding that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) violated the State Environmental Protection Act when issuing grazing permits on its state wildlife areas without undergoing environmental analysis.  The state and Washington Cattleman’s Association had claimed that such analysis was not required as the lands had been grazed in the past under a ‘verbal lease’ – a handshake, and that this arrangement exempted the parties from the need to undergo the analysis.

Court faults Fish and Wildlfie for granting Kittitas grazing leaseYakima Herald-Republic :

Steve Herman, the Thurston County resident who filed the suit on behalf of the Western Watersheds Project, a regional conservation group based in Idaho, called last week’s ruling “a very clear-cut victory for those of us who would preserve some wildlife areas for wildlife.”

The Whiskey Dick/Quilomene Wildlife Area was acquired by the people of Washington as critical wildlife habitat to preserve steelhead fisheries, big game, and other wildlife including the state-listed Greater Sage-grouse and other sage-steppe obligate species.

The Wildlife Area is particularly critical for Greater Sage-grouse in Washington, whose populations have been significantly diminished given fragmented and degraded habitat, leaving the bird teetering on the brink of extinction in the state.

The Wildlife Area is located directly between the two remaining populations of sage grouse in Washington state, providing a critical link, a habitat corridor.  Grazing the area threatens this habitat, potentially exacerbating the isolation between the two remaining sage-grouse populations.

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The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit is now genetically extinct

This loss highlights the importance of genetic interchange and landscape-level habitat preservation

Photo Courtesy USFWS

Photo Courtesy USFWS

The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act but efforts to restore the bunny have been unsuccesful.  Even efforts at maintaining as much of the Columbia Basin ancestory/gene by interbreeding with Idaho pygmy rabbits are not looking good.

Last-ditch effort to save pygmy rabbits near an endWenatchee Work Online

Pygmy rabbits are very timid animals, not prone to travel large distances or cross open spaces without cover from predators.  Fragmentation and manipulation of habitat associated with development, livestock grazing, and other activities that degrade the thick old-growth sagebrush pygmy rabbits need to survive is largely responsible for the imperilment of the rabbits.

Update – Dr. Steve Herman explains some history :

Read the rest of this entry »

Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis)

Pygmy rabbits try to hold on

You can imagine how the livestock industry feels about protecting pygmy rabbits . . . they aren’t game, you can’t raise them in pens and sell them. What good are they?

Pygmy rabbits try to hold on. Diminutive rodent species considered for federal ESA listing. By Jason Kauffman. Idaho Mountain Express Staff Writer

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to do Status Review on the pygmy rabbit

Conservation groups, alarmed at the decline in the pygmy rabbit, petitioned USFWS way back in 2003 that it be added to the endangered species list. In March 2006, the USFWS rejected their petition as “not warranted.” That is ESA legal language for “not needed.”

Western Watersheds Project, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, Oregon Natural Deserts Association, and the Sagebrush Sea Project took them to federal court which overturned the Service and told them to look at it again. Now USFWS has announced they will do a Status Review (the second ESA step in a listing). It is a detailed analysis of the actual status and condition of the species, and is not supposed to be influenced by politics or economics.

Story: Feds to Mull Protection for Pygmy Rabbit. AP. Nicholas K. Geranios. PHOTO of pygmy rabbit.

Petitioners to list the pygmy rabbit issued this news release Jan. 8 after the good news
__________________

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
January 8, 2008

Contact
Katie Fite, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 871-5738
Todd Tucci, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 742-7978 or (270) 366-3415
Jacob Smith, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association, (541) 330-2638
Mark Salvo, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, (503) 757-4221

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Announces Positive ESA Finding for Pygmy Rabbit

On January 8th U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list the pygmy rabbit as Threatened or Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

In April 2003, conservation groups and concerned citizens submitted a formal petition to list the rare and unique pygmy rabbit as threatened or endangered and to have critical habitat designated for its protection. The Service initially found the rabbit not warranted to be listed on the basis that scientific or commercial information presented by the petitioners was insufficient. In March 2006 Western Watersheds Project, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, Oregon Natural Deserts Association, and the Sagebrush Sea Project filed suit to challenge the Services 90-day finding.

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The Western Watersheds Project has been out there, and in court, winning more battles.

From the the WWP blog. Good News.

There are victories on the pygmy rabbit, the desert tortoise, Nickel Creek and video of the recent tour of the Pass Creek grazing allotment in the Lost River Range which I went on.

Judge Orders Pygmy Rabbit Endangered Species Consideration

This is pretty amazing because federal judge Edward Lodge of Idaho rarely rules in favor of conservation groups. Once again this shows how compromised the Bush/Kempthorne USFWS is.

News Release

For more information

Katie Fite, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 871-5738
Todd Tucci, Advocates for the West, (208) 342-7024
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 742-7978 or (270) 366-3415
Josh Pollock, Center for Native Ecosystems, (303) 546-0214
Bill Marlett, Oregon Natural Desert Association, (541) 330-2638
Mark Salvo, Sagebrush Sea Campaign, (503) 757-4221


BOISE, ID – Wednesday September 26 Federal District Judge Edward Lodge of the District of Idaho struck down a decision from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that the agency lacked sufficient scientific information to warrant Endangered Species Act listing consideration. The judge ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider this small sagebrush mammal for listing and to issue a new 90-day finding.

“Under this decision, the FWS can no longer ignore the plummeting pygmy rabbit populations”, said Todd Tucci, attorney with Advocates for the West. “The Service must put politics aside, and let science dictate the outcome of its review.”

The pygmy rabbit weighs about a pound and a half and can fit in the palm of a hand. This unique rabbit climbs high into the branches of sagebrush to browse on the leaves, making it the only arboreal rabbit in North America. Pygmy rabbits require areas of tall, old sagebrush, typically found in valley bottoms.

“The BLM in 2007 is still relentlessly mowing, chopping, burning and herbiciding pygmy rabbit habitats, said Katie Fite of Western Watersheds Project. “Remnant thick and old growth sagebrush is being destroyed in BLM and Forest Service projects dubbed ‘hazardous fuels reduction’ or wildlife habitat projects. In reality, these are the same as the old livestock forage projects that have already obliterated so much of the Sagebrush Sea.”

“Sagebrush dependent wildlife, from pygmy rabbits to sage grouse, are under siege from the dual forces of livestock grazing and cheatgrass-driven fires, turning thousands of acres of the West into a barren moonscape,” said Bill Marlett, Executive Director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association. Read the rest of this entry »