Foster Creek Conservation District
Foster Creek Conservation District

Outreach Aids Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit Recovery

Landowners pose questions to Jon Gallie WDFW recovery project coordinator (second from left)

Douglas and Grant Counties are home to a genetically distinct population of pygmy rabbits (Brachylagus idahoensis), which had been isolated from other Intermountain West rabbit populations for more than 10,000 years. In Washington, population recovery efforts started in 2002 through captive breeding and, in 2003, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.  Throughout the years, this recovery effort has experienced several transformations:

  • 2011 – Recovery efforts transitioned from captive breeding to on-site semi-wild breeding enclosures in Sagebrush Flat and Beezley Hills. Biologists documented the first released rabbits to give birth to offspring in the wild.
  • 2012 – Captive breeding at three facilities officially ended.
  • 2017 – Sutherland Canyon Fire hit Beezley Hills Recovery Area burning 30,000 acres of shrub-steppe habitat, the 10-acre breeding enclosure, and three release pens. 
    • Fire-related mortalities claimed approx. 80 rabbits, or half of the semi-wild breeding population.  The thirty-two rabbits that survived the fire are relocated to enclosures at another recovery site.
    • A new and improved breeding enclosure design replaced the damaged enclosures at Beezley Hills.
  • 2018 – Wild-born kits are reintroduced to the Burton Draw Recovery Area in Douglas Co. for the first time.
  • 2013 – 2018 – Rabbits settled into native shrub-steppe during the first couple of years, but then began dispersing into adjacent Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. 
  • October 2019 – Elizabeth Jackson, Foster Creek CD Natural Resource Specialist, Jon Gallie, Wildlife Biologist for the Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and Corinna Hanson, Moses Coulee Land Manager for The Nature Conservancy, offer a field tour for private landowners operating near recovery sites.  Participants indicated an increase in general knowledge about the rabbits.
  • November 2019 – Jackson and Melinda Hughes, WDFW Private Lands Biologist, teach local students about the rabbit. FREE educational materials can be found online at www.fostercreekcd.org/programs/education-outreach/
Melinda Hughes (left) and Elizabeth Jackson (right) taught local plant identification and biology of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit for Wenatchee High School’s Earth Club in November 2019.

Ways You Can Support Pygmy Rabbit Recovery: Washington’s pygmy rabbit population still needs your help to fully recover!  Without native sagebrush or a diversity of wildflowers, our pygmy rabbit population cannot be sustained.  Protecting and enhancing native sagebrush provides food and cover for these cryptic creatures. Connecting patches of mature sagebrush 3+ foot tall gives rabbits more room to move around.  Report potential sightings of pygmy rabbits, their scat, or a burrow system by contacting WDFW at (509) 754-4624 or Foster Creek CD at (509) 888-6372.  Documenting rabbits and their burrow systems helps track the success of population recovery. Agricultural operations will not be subject to additional WDFW regulations if you report pygmy rabbit sightings on your property.  In addition, protecting native habitat benefits other threatened wildlife species in this area, such as the Greater sage-grouse, the Columbian sharp-tailed grouse, and the Washington ground squirrel. 

Print Print | Sitemap
Foster Creek Conservation District 203 S Rainier Waterville, WA 98858 509-888-6372 © Foster Creek CD