[Federal Register: September 7, 2007 (Volume 72, Number 173)]
[Page 51461-51462]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

Draft Recovery Plan for Columbia Basin Distinct Population 
Segment of the Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis)

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of document availability for review and comment.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), announce the 
availability of a draft recovery plan for the Columbia Basin distinct 
population segment of the pygmy rabbit for public review and comment.

DATES: We must receive any comments on the draft recovery plan on or 
before November 6, 2007.

ADDRESSES: The draft recovery plan and reference materials are 
available for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours 
at the following location: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Upper 
Columbia Fish and Wildlife Office, 11103 East Montgomery Drive, 
Spokane, Washington 99206 (Telephone: 509-891-6839). Submitted comments 
regarding the draft recovery plan will also be available for public 
inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours following the 
public review and comment period. Requests for copies of the draft 
recovery plan and submission of written comments or materials regarding 
the plan should be addressed to the Field Supervisor at the above 
address. An electronic copy of the draft recovery plan is also 
available at: http://endangered.fws.gov/recovery/index.html#plans.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Chris Warren, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, by writing to the above address, by calling 509-893-8020, or 
by electronic mail at: chris_warren@fws.gov.



    Recovery of endangered or threatened animals and plants is a 
primary goal of the Endangered Species Act (Act) (16 U.S.C. 1531 et 
seq.) and our endangered species program. Recovery means improvement of 
the status of listed species to the point at which listing is no longer 
required under the criteria set out in section 4(a)(1) of the Act. 
Recovery plans describe actions considered necessary for the 
conservation of the species, establish criteria for downlisting or 
delisting listed species, and estimate time and cost for implementing 
the measures needed for recovery.
    Section 4(f) of the Act directs the Secretaries of Interior and 
Commerce to develop and implement recovery plans for species listed as 
endangered or threatened, unless such plans will not promote the 
conservation of the species. We and the National Marine Fisheries 
Service, as appropriate, have been delegated responsibility for 
administering the Act. Section 4(f) of the Act requires that public 
notice, and an opportunity for public review and comment, be provided 
during development of recovery plans. We will consider all information 
presented during the public comment period on each new or revised 
recovery plan. Substantive comments may or may not result in changes to 
a recovery plan. However, any substantive comments regarding recovery 
plan implementation will be forwarded to appropriate Federal agencies 
or other interested entities so that they can take these comments into 
account during the implementation of their respective management 
programs. Individual responses to submitted comments will not be 
    The pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit species in North America, 
with adult lengths of under 1 foot and weights of less than 1 pound. 
The pygmy rabbit is distinguishable from other rabbit species by its 
small size, short ears, small hind legs, and lack of white on the tail. 
Historically, pygmy rabbits were found throughout the semi-arid 
sagebrush steppe biome of the Great Basin and adjacent intermountain 
regions of the western United States, including portions of Oregon, 
California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Washington. 
Within this broad biome, pygmy rabbits are typically found in habitat 
types that include tall, dense stands of sagebrush (Artemesia spp.), on 
which they are highly dependent for both food and shelter throughout 
the year. The pygmy rabbit is one of only two rabbit species in North 
America that digs its own burrows and, therefore, is most often found 
in areas that also include relatively deep, loose soils that allow 
    The pygmy rabbit has been present within the Columbia Basin, a 
geographic area that extends from northern Oregon through central 
Washington, for over 100,000 years. This distinct population segment of 
the pygmy rabbit, which is referred to as the Columbia Basin pygmy 
rabbit and is the subject of this draft recovery plan, is believed to 
have been disjunct from the remainder of the species' range for at 
least 10,000 years, as suggested by the fossil record, and possibly as 
long as 40,000 to 115,000 years, as suggested by population genetic 
analyses. Museum specimens and sighting records indicate that during 
the first half of the 20th century, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit 
likely occurred in portions of six Washington counties, including 
Douglas, Grant, Lincoln, Adams, Franklin, and Benton.
    Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits were thought to be extirpated from 
Washington during the mid-1900s, however, they were again located in 
the State in 1979. Intensive surveys in 1987 and 1988 discovered five 
small subpopulations in southern Douglas County; three occurred on 
State lands and two on private lands. The number of Columbia Basin 
pygmy rabbit subpopulations and active burrows in Washington has 
declined dramatically over the past decade. In addition, surveys of the 
last known subpopulation conducted from 2004 through 2006 did not 
detect any animals, indicating that the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit may 
have been extirpated from the wild. We listed this distinct population 
segment under emergency provisions of the Act in 2001, and fully listed 
it as endangered in 2003, without critical habitat.
    Large-scale loss and fragmentation of native shrub-steppe habitats, 
primarily for agricultural development, likely played a primary role in 
the long-term decline of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. Imminent 
threats related to small population size include chance environmental 
events (e.g., extreme weather), catastrophic habitat loss or resource 
failure (e.g., from wildfire),

[[Page 51462]]

predation, disease, demographic limitations, loss of genetic diversity, 
and inbreeding.
    In 2001, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began a 
captive breeding program for the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. 
Ultimately, the goal of the captive breeding program is to facilitate 
future releases of captive-bred animals at suitable sites within the 
population's historical distribution to begin the process of its 
recovery in the wild. However, the captive purebred Columbia Basin 
pygmy rabbits did not produce enough offspring to accommodate 
reintroduction efforts, and only a minimal number of purebred animals 
have been available since the program's first breeding season in 2002. 
In addition, the available information indicates that the Columbia 
Basin pygmy rabbit has experienced a loss of genetic diversity as a 
result of inbreeding and genetic drift. Due to poor demographic, 
behavioral, physiological, and genetic indicators for pure Columbia 
Basin pygmy rabbit breeding efforts, intercross matings between 
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits and pygmy rabbits of the same taxonomic 
classification from a discrete population in Idaho were initiated 
during the 2003 breeding season.
    In March, 2007, 20 captive-bred pygmy rabbits were reintroduced to 
habitats historically occupied by the species within the Columbia Basin 
of central Washington. These captive-bred animals experienced a high 
level of predation over the first several weeks following their 
release. As of May 15, 2007, five of these animals remained alive and 
they will continue to be monitored throughout the 2007 breeding season. 
Just prior to the initial release effort, there were 86 individuals 
included in the captive breeding program, 3 of which were purebred 
Columbia Basin animals. At least one wild-born, and likely captive bred 
kit (approximately 1-month old) has been documented at the release 
site. The remaining captive-bred female was also observed displaying 
nesting behavior. The balance of the captive population and those 
recently released to the wild consist of intercross pygmy rabbits. 
Intercross breeding has helped facilitate genetic restoration of the 
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit and is considered essential for recovery 
efforts. Currently, proposed measures to recover the Columbia Basin 
pygmy rabbit in the wild include additional releases of captive-bred 
animals with at least 75 percent Columbia Basin ancestry.
    The draft recovery plan proposes a phased approach to recovery 
implementation: first, removal or abatement of imminent threats to 
prevent the extinction of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit; second, 
reestablishment of an appropriate number and distribution of free-
ranging subpopulations over the near-term; and third, establishment and 
protection of a resilient, free-ranging population that could withstand 
foreseeable long-term threats. A key near-term objective of Federal 
recovery efforts is to reintroduce Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits to the 
wild and sufficiently reduce threats to the population to ensure a high 
probability of its persistence over the foreseeable future. The long-
term recovery goal is to increase the number, distribution, and 
security of free-ranging Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits so that the 
population may be reclassified as threatened and, ultimately, be 
removed from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants 
under the Act. The draft recovery plan identifies the following main 
actions as necessary to initiate recovery of the Columbia Basin pygmy 
rabbit: (1) Manage the captive breeding program; (2) manage genetic 
characteristics; (3) survey for and monitor free-ranging individuals; 
(4) reestablish free-ranging subpopulations within their historical 
distribution; (5) protect free-ranging individuals; (6) manage habitats 
at recovery emphasis areas to support stable, self-sustaining 
subpopulations; (7) pursue cooperative agreements with land owners and 
managers of intervening properties within the population's historical 
distribution; (8) exchange information with stakeholders and the 
general public to address concerns and increase support for recovery 
efforts; (9) secure funding for recovery efforts; and (10) revise the 
recovery plan as necessary to achieve the phased recovery strategy.

Public Comments Solicited

    We solicit written comments on the draft recovery plan described in 
this notice. All comments received by the date specified above will be 
considered in development of a final recovery plan for the Columbia 
Basin pygmy rabbit.


     The authority for this action is section 4(f) of the Endangered 
Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1533 (f).

    Dated: July 26, 2007.
David Wesley,
Acting Regional Director, Region 1, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
 [FR Doc. E7-17679 Filed 9-6-07; 8:45 am]