Once common across much of eastern Washington, the state's two native jackrabbit species appear to have declined to the point that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking help from citizen volunteers in an effort to count how many rabbits are left and determine where they are located.
The volunteers will accompany and assist WDFW wildlife biologists on black-tailed and white-tailed jackrabbit field surveys that will continue through October. The surveys involve driving miles of rural roads at night to sight jackrabbits. The location of road-killed jackrabbits found along highways also will be noted in the survey.
Earlier this year, the department asked citizens to report jackrabbit sightings by calling (360)902-2489 or (360) 902-2493.
The reason for the jackrabbit decline may be due to loss or fragmentation of the native shrub-steppe habitat of eastern Washington, according to Harriet Allen, WDFW endangered species section manager.
That landscape once blanketed the Columbia Basin, but now has been fragmented into "bits and pieces in a sea of farmland," Allen noted.
Besides the need to monitor the status of the jackrabbit species, biologists are concerned because jackrabbits are a fundamental food source for birds of prey such as golden eagles and ferruginous hawks, Allen explained.
"The decline of jackrabbit populations may be an indicator that the shrub-steppe ecosystem they depend on is in trouble," Allen said.
Meanwhile the field surveys, combined with information on historic population trends, are a means of gathering more information about the jackrabbits' status.
Depending on location, those wishing to volunteer for jackrabbit field surveys, should contact: David Anderson at (509) 395-2232 for Klickitat County; Jerry Hickman at (509) 456-4082, for Spokane, Lincoln and Whitman counties; Mark Quinn at (509) 754-4624 for Grant, Douglas and Okanogan counties, and Lee Stream at (509) 457-9303 for Kittitas, Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties.