Status of the Pygmy Rabbit (Brachylagus Idahoensis) in Idaho


In July and August 2002, I conducted a "windshield survey" of pygmy rabbit habitat in southern Idaho for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I traveled approximately 4,100 miles through eight BLM Field Office areas in search of currently or recently active pygmy rabbit burrow systems, using methods that I previously used successfully in Lemhi and Custer Counties (Roberts, 2001). I assumed for the purpose of this study that I would be able to find rabbits anywhere that there were mature stands of the three subspecies of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). I was only able to find nine new sites that were currently active and two sites that had been recently used. Six of these sites were within 15 miles of the state lines between Idaho and Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada, providing insight on connectivity between the states.

The major reason for finding so few animals was the high degree of fragmentation over most of the pygmy rabbit's historic range. Much of the Snake River Plains has been converted to dry land or irrigated fanning that has eliminated rabbits from this area. Other large blocks have been reduced by recent large wild fires. Agriculture and range fires together have fragmented what was once thought to be one continuous population into three sub-populations: (I) lands situated north of the Snake River, (2) Owyhee County, and (3) lands south of the Snake River. Habitat in the Salmon and Challis FO areas (sub-population 1) has remained relatively intact because there have been few large range fires and only small acreages of farming. On the other extreme, the Burley FO area (sub-population 3) is heavily farmed and has had numerous large range fires. Pygmy rabbits found here should be considered isolated and fragmented. Their future is in doubt. Owyhee County (sub-population 2) has been severely burned at lower elevations but higher elevations appear to be relatively intact.

I concluded that there is little that can be done to mitigate past loss of habitat due to farming, as it is a way of life in Idaho. However, there are ways to mitigate further habitat loss on private lands through conservation easements. Fire is currently the major contributing factor to the loss of pygmy rabbit habitat in Idaho. Its fate rests largely on BLM fire suppression efforts. If it is to survive, large blocks of mature big sagebrush need to be preserved.

Publication Date




Collection: BLM Library
Category: Report