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.

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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.

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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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