pygmy rabbit

A pygmy rabbit is seen hiding among the brush.

A new gift of land to The Nature Conservancy, 282 acres near Quincy, will help secure a future for tiny endangered pygmy rabbits.

The gift comes from Peter Lancaster and the estate of Paul Schuster, buddies who shared a passion for the fragile sagebrush covered lands near where they grew up in Wenatchee. They loved the landscape and the wildlife that inhabited the shrub-steppe, especially pygmy rabbits, the smallest species of rabbit in North America, which has hovered on the edge of extinction for decades.

Some 25 years ago they purchased 282 acres in Grant County in the heart of the area designated as a critical part of the Pygmy Rabbit Recovery Emphasis Area identified by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

The land will become part of The Nature Conservancy’s existing Beezley Hills Preserve.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has an active partnership with WDFW to conserve pygmy rabbits by providing suitable habitat and release sites, engaging volunteers to assist with pygmy rabbit conservation and release efforts, and offering temporary housing for staff and researchers at the Moses Coulee Field Station.

Peter Lancaster has volunteered for decades to assist in the recovery program, offering this land for both semi-wild rearing efforts and for release of rabbits. Paul Schuster’s death in a tragic accident last year spurred Peter to seek permanent protection of the land with TNC.

“We are incredibly grateful for Peter and Paul’s commitment to this land and to the recovery of the pygmy rabbits,” said Corinna Hanson, Moses Coulee Land Manager for TNC.

Pygmy rabbits have been devastated by wildfires in recent years, most recently by the Pearl Hill fire of 2020 and the Sutherland Canyon fire of 2017.  Significant areas of habitat across their range were destroyed and many rabbits were lost in both fires. This makes the Lancaster/Schuster gift of land even more important, as it provides high quality habitat in the heart of the recovery area.

TNC’s new property will support WDFW’s restoration and recovery efforts. TNC will provide stewardship and habitat restoration for pygmy rabbits’ long-term survival. As the volunteer program re-opens in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, TNC expects to bring volunteers out to assist in pygmy rabbit release efforts again.

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