The pygmy rabbit (Brachylagus idahoensis) is classified by the federal government as a species of concern (i.e., under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for consideration as a candidate for listing as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act) because of its specialized habitat requirements and evidence of declining populations. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) lists pygmy rabbits as 'sensitive-vulnerable,' meaning that protective measures are needed if sustainable populations are to be maintained over time (Oregon Natural Heritage Program, 2001). The Oregon Natural Heritage Program considers this species to be threatened with extirpation from Oregon. Pygmy rabbits also are a species of concern in all the other states where they occur (NatureServe, 2004). The Washington population, known as the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, was listed as endangered by the federal government in 2003.
Historically, pygmy rabbits have been collected from Deschutes, Klamath, Crook, Lake, Grant, Harney, Baker, and Malheur Counties in Oregon. However, the geographic range of pygmy rabbit in Oregon may have decreased in historic times (Verts and Carraway, 1998), and boundaries of the current distribution are not known. Not all potentially suitable sites appear to be occupied, and populations are susceptible to rapid declines and local extirpation (Weiss and Verts, 1984). In order to protect and manage remaining populations on State of Oregon lands, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to identify areas currently occupied by pygmy rabbits, as well as suitable habitats.
The main objective of this survey was document to presence or absence of pygmy rabbits on state lands in Malheur, Harney, Lake, and Deschutes counties. Knowledge of the location and extent of pygmy rabbit populations can provide a foundation for the conservation and management of this species in Oregon. The pygmy rabbit is just one of a suite of species of concern associated with sagebrush habitats in the Great Basin. Because information on habitat and distribution of many species is scarce, a secondary goal of the rabbit surveys was to list all other vertebrate species encountered on surveyed sites. This information may be useful in directing future studies aimed at specific taxa.