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Jack Rabbit Populations Are Under Study In Washington State

Ecologists are losing sleep over jack rabbits. The tall-eared animals have become so scarce in the West scientists study the desert hares at night.

Researchers are combing one of the only tracks of habitat where jack rabbits still roam free — the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Jack rabbits used to be considered a pest around Eastern Washington, or at best, good for target practice. But now there’s anecdotal evidence that jack rabbits are on the decline from Washington to the Great Plains.

But there’s very little hard data. Jack rabbits are good at hiding under sage brush and their populations cycle naturally.

Ecologist Kyle Larson roves the Hanford Nuclear Reservation at night. He’s says that’s the best time to spot jack rabbits. He says they’re likely declining because of a lack of contiguous sagebrush, or shrub steppe, habitat.

Kyle Larson: :Many folks will often look at desert environments such as where we live here as sort of barren waste lands.However, the animals that depend on and live in these ecosystems don’t live anywhere else.”

Larson says both black-tail and white-tail jack rabbits are now candidates for listing as threatened or endangered in Washington.

Ecologists with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory rove the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southcentral Washington at night to spotlight for jack rabbits. They think the populations may be declining because of lack of sage brush or shrub steppe habitat.