January 9, 2008

Feds to Mull Protection for Pygmy Rabbit

As of Tuesday, the smallest rabbit in North America is being considered for endangered species protection by the federal government. Adult pygmy rabbits are under a foot long and weigh anywhere from half a pound to a little over a pound.

In 2003 these rabbits were listed in eastern Washington as endangered, and the current study conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine if they are to be listed in California, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Wyoming and Utah.

In 2005 a similar petition was filed, however the Fish and Wildlife Service did not believe protection of pygmy rabbits was warranted at the time. Two years later a District Judge from Idaho ruled that the agency "acted in a manner that was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to the applicable law," and a new 90-day review was performed.

Millions of dollars have already been spent trying to restore the species. Wildlife agencies have been mating pygmy rabbits, and earlier this year the government released 20 pygmy rabbits into the Columbia Basin. Within the month, 19 of the 20 were dead because of predators. This species is struggling to survive, primarily for this very reason.

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits were bred with Idaho pygmy rabbits, a more diverse species, and there are approximately 80 of these crossbred rabbits in breeding programs. Attempts to reintroduce the rabbits into the wild will continue.