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Western Watersheds Project Sues to Protect Pygmy Rabbits

For immediate release – October 3, 2011

Contacts: Jon Marvel, Executive Director Western Watersheds Project, 208.788.2290
Todd Tucci, Senior Staff Attorney, Advocates for the West, 208.342.7024 ext. 202

Boise, ID — Western Watersheds Project has filed a court challenge to the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that the Pygmy rabbit, a tiny bunny small enough to hold in your hand, does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“This litigation will result in protection for Pygmy rabbits,” said Jon Marvel, executive director of Western Watersheds Project, “I look forward to the day when these charismatic native rabbits once again flourish on public lands throughout the west.”

The pygmy rabbit was first identified as possibly in need of protection in 2003 and its habitat and numbers continue to diminish. Pygmy rabbits do not disperse well and are often too shy to cross open areas for fear of predators, compounding the effects of fragmentation.

Fragmentation and loss of large sagebrush habitat are rampant throughout the rabbits’ range. Livestock grazing, which occurs on nearly all of the areas inhabited by pygmy rabbits, radically alters sagebrush habitat, removing forage, lowering the nutritional value of grasses, spreading exotic weeds and diseases, collapsing burrows and attracting predators. Once populations are isolated by fragmentation and habitat degradation, interbreeding and malnutrition preclude the bunnies from thriving and entire populations perish.

In 2003, conservation groups including WWP and concerned citizens filed a listing petition to protect pygmy rabbits under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) rejected the petition. In March 2006 Western Watersheds Project, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Native Ecosystems, Oregon Natural Deserts Association, and the Sagebrush Sea Project filed suit to challenge the Services 90-day finding. In their challenge of denial of protection for pygmy rabbits, the groups were represented by Todd Tucci of Advocates for the West. The litigation was successful and on January 8, 2008 the FWS agreed to a Status Review, the second step to protecting the vanishing pygmy rabbit. On September 30, 2010 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection for Pygmy rabbit under the Endangered Species Act.

Western Watersheds Project is ably represented in this litigation by Todd Tucci, Senior Staff Attorney, of Advocates for the West’s Boise office.


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