News Release

January 23, 2013

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Releases Recovery Plan for the Endangered Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit

Media Contacts:
Chris Warren, 509-893-8020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the release of the final recovery plan for the endangered Columbia Basin distinct population segment of the pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis). Recovery plans, required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), are recommendations of the best ways to restore a diminished wildlife population so that it no longer needs the protections of the ESA. The plan announced today is the result of years of scientific review and public involvement and, in accordance with agency policy, has undergone scientific peer review. The recovery plan was published in the January 23, 2013 Federal Register.

Pygmy rabbits are the smallest rabbits in North America. Adults weigh about one pound and are less than a foot long. The Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit has been isolated from other pygmy rabbit populations for at least 10,000 years and is genetically different from them. Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are believed to have been extirpated in the wild. The last known individuals were captured in 2004 for a breeding program intended to boost CBPR numbers for reintroduction into the wild. Historically, CBPR were likely found in portions of Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams, Franklin, and Benton Counties, Washington

The plan recommends continuation of many recovery efforts already underway, including releases of captive-bred animals, translocation of pygmy rabbits from populations outside the Columbia Basin, and semi-controlled field breeding measures. It also calls for surveys to determine if other pygmy rabbit populations may exist in areas not covered in earlier surveys.

To facilitate reintroduction of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits to the wild and eventual recovery, the Service developed a Safe Harbor Agreement for private land owners and managers located within the species’ historic distribution. The agreement provides regulatory assurances that current land use practices on properties covered by the agreement will not be negatively affected by recovery efforts.

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are a unique species and their continued existence may provide yet-undiscovered benefits to the ecosystem. Their loss would diminish the functional quality of the ecosystem and may have effects we cannot yet understand or quantify. Threats to the species include large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation, mainly from past agricultural development, fire, invasive plant species, recreational activities and livestock grazing. Other threats include extreme weather, predation, disease, demographic limitations and loss of genetic diversity. All these influences have impacted the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit and together led to the population’s endangered status.

The recovery plan is available for viewing and downloading on our web site at:
http://1.usa.gov/XwYqRj