Washington’s pygmy rabbits are small, few and far between. We’re working to conserve and improve their habitat.
While many of our wildlife conservation efforts are for mid-sized to large, tenacious animals like grizzlies, wolves, fishers and wolverines, we’re also working to restore Washington’s cutest sagelands critter.
Pygmy rabbits, named after their tiny size, have both state and federal Endangered status. They are the smallest species of rabbit in North America, and live right in the heart of Washington’s shrub-steppe landscapes.
News on pygmy rabbits
- September 2020: Endangered wildlife, habitat burned in Washington wildfires; years of effort to boost populations wiped out, The Seattle Times
- September 2020: Fire wipes out half of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit population, The Wenatchee World
- May 2019: After nearly going extinct, Washington’s pygmy rabbits need room to grow, High Country News
- June 2018: Conserving the cutest sagelands critter
- May 2018: State reviewing protections for sharp-tailed grouse, pygmy rabbits
- March 2018: On the edge of the Sagebrush Sea
- July 2017: Quick-acting scientists save dozens of rare pygmy rabbits from Washington wildfire by The Seattle Times
Pygmy rabbits in Washington
Pygmy rabbits in the Columbia Basin have different genetics and are geographically isolated from other pygmy rabbits, so they’re classified as a Distinct Population Segment under the Federal Endangered Species Act.
Washington’s pygmy rabbits have lived apart from the rest of their species’ range, which includes portions of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, for at least 10,000 years and as many as 115,000 years.
In 2001, only one population with as few as 16 pygmy rabbits remained in Washington, coming extremely close to local extinction. Threats to the pygmy rabbit include habitat loss and fragmentation caused by land conversion, development, invasive species and wildfire.
While attempts to reintroduce the rabbits in 2007 were unsuccessful, a collaborative recovery effort including the Oregon Zoo, Washington State University, Northwest Trek, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and other state agencies has released thousands of rabbits in Washington’s sagebrush since 2011.
Conserving Washington’s pygmy rabbits
Pygmy rabbits like dense, large sagebrush stands and gentle slopes for their burrows. Connecting high-quality shrub-steppe habitat over a large area is critical to their recovery. Through our Sagelands Heritage Program, we’re conserving this vital habitat for these rabbits in our efforts to maintain, restore and protect the landscape.
When the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife reviewed the state protection status of the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit in 2018, we filed an official comment to maintain their endangered status, pointing to the loss of nearly half of the existing state population in 2017’s devastating Sutherland wildfire.
In 2018, we also helped the WDFW in their efforts to recover pygmy rabbits and check for signs of breeding activity by health-checking and tagging them in Washington’s sagelands. By making progress on overall habitat connectivity and sagelands restoration, we’re making sure these cute critters can thrive.
Pygmy rabbit facts
- The pygmy rabbit is the smallest rabbit species in North America, growing to just under a foot in length, and weighing up to a single pound. Females are slightly larger than males.
- In the winter, these rabbits munch on a lot of sagebrush—making up 90 percent of their diet!
- Pygmy rabbits are one of only two rabbits in North America that dig their own burrows, where they raise their young, find shelter for thermoregulation and hide from predators.
- Pygmy rabbits are prey to weasels, coyotes, American badgers, hawks and owls.