[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 15 (Wednesday, January 23, 2013)]
[Pages 4865-4866]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-01293]



Fish and Wildlife Service

[FWS-R1-ES-2012-N199; FXES11130100000C2-123-FF01E00000]

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Recovery Plan for 
the Columbia Basin Distinct Population Segment of the Pygmy Rabbit 
(Brachylagus idahoensis)

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of document availability.


SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce the 
availability of the approved Recovery Plan for the Columbia Basin 
Distinct Population Segment of the Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus 
idahoensis). The recovery plan includes recovery objectives and 
criteria and prescribes specific recovery actions considered necessary 
to achieve downlisting of the population from endangered to threatened 
status on the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and 

ADDRESSES: An electronic copy of the recovery plan is available at 
http://www.fws.gov/endangered/species/recovery-plans.html and http://www.fws.gov/pacific/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/plans.html. Copies 
of the recovery plan are also available by request from the U.S. Fish 
and Wildlife Service, Eastern Washington Field Office, 11103 East 
Montgomery Drive, Spokane, Washington 99206 (phone: 509-891-6839). 
Printed copies of the recovery plan will be available for distribution 
within 4 to 6 weeks of publication of this notice.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Chris Warren, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, at the above Spokane address and telephone number.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: We announce the availability of the approved 
Recovery Plan for the Columbia Basin Distinct Population Segment of the 
Pygmy Rabbit (Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit).


    Recovery of endangered or threatened animals and plants is the 
primary goal of the Endangered Species Act (Act) of 1973, as amended 
(16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.). Recovery means improvement of the status of a 
listed species to the point at which listing it is no longer required 
under the criteria set forth in section 4(a)(1) of the Act and its 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424. The Act requires the 
development of recovery plans for endangered or threatened species 
unless such a plan would not promote the conservation of the species. 
Recovery plans help guide the recovery effort by prescribing actions 
considered necessary for the conservation of the species, establishing 
criteria for downlisting or delisting listed species, and estimating 
time and cost for implementing the measures needed for recovery.
    In 2007 we developed a draft recovery plan (Draft) for the Columbia 
Basin pygmy rabbit in coordination with the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit 
Recovery Team, which included representatives from two U.S. Department 
of the Interior bureaus (Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land 
Management), one U.S. Department of Agriculture bureau (Natural 
Resources Conservation Service), two State agencies (Washington 
Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington Department of Natural 
Resources), Washington State University, The Nature Conservancy, Oregon 
Zoo, Foster Creek Conservation District, and several adjunct expert 
contributors. In order to address available new information, ongoing 
implementation of adaptive management measures, and prescribed changes 
to specific actions defined in the Draft, we developed an amendment to 
the draft recovery plan (Amendment) for the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit 
in 2011. Several of the above recovery team members also contributed to 
development of the Amendment and the final approved recovery plan.
    Section 4(f) of the Act requires public notice and an opportunity 
for public review and comment during recovery plan development. From 
September 7 through November 6, 2007, we provided the Draft to the 
public and solicited comments (72 FR 51461). From June 29 through 
August 29, 2011, we provided the Amendment to the public and solicited 
comments (76 FR 38203). We considered all information we received 
during the public comment periods, along with comments solicited from 
expert peer reviewers, and have summarized that information and our 
responses to comments in an appendix to the final recovery plan. We 
welcome continuing comment on the recovery plan, and we will consider 
all substantive comments on an ongoing basis to inform the 
implementation of

[[Page 4866]]

recovery activities and future updates to the recovery plan.
    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. By 2001, the 
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit was imminently threatened by its small 
population size, loss of genetic diversity, and inbreeding depression, 
coupled with a lack of suitable protected habitats in the wild. To 
varying degrees, these influences continue to impact the Columbia Basin 
pygmy rabbit.
    The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife began a captive 
breeding program for the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit in 2001 and an 
intercross breeding strategy in 2003. Due to severe inbreeding 
depression in the purebred captive animals, intercross breeding was 
conducted to facilitate genetic restoration of the Columbia Basin pygmy 
rabbit, and is considered essential for recovery efforts. Intercross 
breeding was accomplished through carefully controlled matings between 
the founding purebred Columbia Basin animals and pygmy rabbits of the 
same taxonomic classification from a discrete population in Idaho. The 
last known wild subpopulation of pygmy rabbits within the Columbia 
Basin was extirpated by early 2004, although other wild subpopulations 
may still exist on lands that have not yet been surveyed.
    In March of 2007, 20 captive-bred, intercrossed pygmy rabbits were 
reintroduced to habitats historically occupied by the species in the 
Columbia Basin of central Washington. Through monitoring it was 
determined that these captive-bred animals experienced very high 
mortality over the first several weeks following their release, and 
none are believed to have survived. Following the development and 
implementation of appropriate adaptive management measures, 
reintroduction efforts were resumed in the summer of 2011. The new 
measures that have been implemented include additional releases of the 
captive-bred intercrossed pygmy rabbits, the capture and translocation 
of wild pygmy rabbits from populations outside of the Columbia Basin 
for inclusion in the reintroduction program, initiation of partially 
controlled field-breeding efforts, and improved protective measures 
during releases. As these new measures have been implemented, the need 
for continuing captive breeding efforts has steadily diminished, and 
captive breeding operations at the three cooperating facilities were 
discontinued by the end of July 2012.
    The recovery plan prescribes a phased approach for recovery: (1) 
Removal or abatement of imminent threats to the population and 
potentially suitable shrub-steppe habitats in the Columbia Basin; (2) 
reestablishment of an appropriate number and distribution of free-
ranging subpopulations over the near term; and (3) establishment and 
protection of a sufficiently resilient, free-ranging population that 
would be expected to withstand foreseeable long-term threats. This 
recovery strategy is oriented to dynamic adaptive management of the 
Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit and its habitat, consistent with the 
Service's Strategic Habitat Conservation process, which calls for an 
iterative process of biological planning, conservation design, 
conservation delivery, and monitoring and research. The biological 
planning and conservation design set forth in this recovery plan lay 
out the criteria for recovery and identify localities for implementing 
actions, while the recovery actions describe a process for implementing 
conservation on the ground, outcome-based monitoring to assess success, 
and ongoing assumption-driven research to test biological hypotheses 
important to management. To facilitate this strategy, specific near-
term (i.e., 2012 to 2021) and more general long-term objectives and 
criteria have been established. In addition, revised implementation 
schedules will be developed, as necessary, to reflect the knowledge 
gained, accomplishments met, potential future constraints encountered, 
and consequent refinements to near-term recovery objectives, criteria, 
and/or actions as recovery progresses.

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

    Dated: December 11, 2012.
Richard R. Hannan,
Acting Regional Director, Pacific Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
[FR Doc. 2013-01293 Filed 1-22-13; 8:45 am]