Pygmy rabbits were first discovered in central Idaho in Pahsimeroi country by naturalist C. Hart Merriam in 1890.
The tiny one pound rabbits are the only rabbit to dig their own burrows, requiring dense sagebrush with deep soils to do so. In winter, the rabbits tunnel through the snow.
Pygmy rabbits are dependent on sage brush for both food and protection from predators. In fact, pygmy rabbits are the only arboreal rabbits, climbing sage brush to nibble on its greens. Unfortunately, gas and oil wells, livestock grazing, and aggressive habitat alteration projects fragment pygmy rabbit habitat leaving pygmy rabbits isolated from eachother and unable to keep their genetic diversity viable. Being too shy to cross roads and too exposed to cross disturbed sage brush without predation, pygmy rabbits need remaing sage-steppe communities preserved and disturbed sage brush communities restored to ensure contiguous pygmy rabbit habitat.
Katie Fite, Biodiversity Director at Western Watersheds Project explains, “Grazing simplifies and destroys the dense and complex structure of sagebrush necessary to protect pygmy rabbits from eagles and other aerial predators. BLM and the Forest, under pressure from the livestock industry, are essentially carrying out a war on the best remaining pygmy habitats of dense mature and old growth sagebrush. Burning, mowing, chopping, disking and even herbiciding old growth sagebrush are routine BLM and Forest Service activities carried out in the name of restoration and Healthy Forests Fuels projects. This sagebrush killing is identical to livestock forage projects of the past - just called something else.
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. The litigation was successful and on January 8, 2008 the FWS agreed to a Status Review, the second step to protecting the dwindling pygmy rabbit from industry.