WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that the pygmy rabbit is not endangered, because the statistical methods used in the petition requesting protection are not accurate enough to find a significant decline in the population.
The determination does not apply to the Columbia Basin distinct population segment of the rabbit in Washington state, which was previously determined to be endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency had determined that the initial petition to protect the species throughout its range did not contain sufficient information to warrant a full status review, but it performed the 12 month status review after environmental groups, including the Western Watershed Project, filed suit claiming that the agency had violated its own rules in making the determination.
The petition had argued that conversion of the rabbit’s sagebrush habitat to agricultural use, the suppression of wild fires and the clearing of habitat for oil and gas exploration were the primary threats to the pygmy rabbit in Oregon, Idaho, California, Wyoming and Montana.
While accepting that loss of habitat could have a negative impact on pygmy rabbit populations, the agency found that the statistical methods for determining the population of the pygmy rabbit were not sufficiently accurate for a reliable extrapolation to be made indicating a significant decline in the population across its range.
The agency remains open to public comment on the status of the pygmy rabbit including new population studies based on what the agency determines to be more accurate methodology.