Nevada’s pygmy rabbit population has been dwindling for decades and conservation groups are sounding the alarm.
Groups are requesting protection for the pygmy rabbit in the Western United States under the Endangered Species Act. A petition sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated the world’s smallest rabbit is at risk of extinction because of habitat loss and disease.
Vera Smith, senior federal land policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said the Sagebrush Sea is declining by millions of acres each year, leaving only about 13% of the original ecosystem intact, leaving Nevada with an occupancy rate of just 22% for the pygmy rabbit in some areas.
“The pygmy rabbit historically lived in parts of the Sagebrush Sea across that entire range for many states,” Smith explained. “Because the habitat is declining so much we are really concerned that the pygmy rabbit itself is in real trouble.”
Smith pointed out the loss of the pygmy rabbit’s habitat is being threatened by more intense fires, invasive plant species, climate change and drought as well as development and energy extraction practices. She added as the habitat diminishes and becomes more fragmented, the wildlife dependent on the ecosystem becomes more stressed.
In addition to habitat loss, Smith noted a new virus has also heavily affected wild rabbit populations, including the pygmy rabbit.
Smith emphasized if the Fish and Wildlife Service concurs the pygmy rabbit population data is alarming, groups like hers would like to see a “coordinated strategy” across the Western U.S. to enable the tiny rabbits to recover.
“For us, one of the very important things that the recovery strategy would hopefully point to is that we need to be more deliberate about protecting habitat and connecting habitat across the Sagebrush Sea,” Smith stressed.
Smith argued the Endangered Species Act listing would offer the best chance at protecting not only the small rabbit, which can range between a half pound and a pound and a half, but also its rapidly vanishing habitat, seen by Smith as vital for the recovery of the species.
This story was written by Alex Gonzalez, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.