Montana biologist revokes his claim that white-tailed jackrabbits have disappeared from Greater Yellowstone

Montana biologist revokes his claim that white-tailed jackrabbits have disappeared from Greater Yellowstone. Casper Star Tribune. By Matthew Brown.

According the the article, Dr. Jim Halfpenny of Gardiner has reported a lot of jackrabbit sign inside Yellowstone Park on the northern range. Five other biologists also reportedly contacted Dr. Joel Berger who had made the claim in a scientific publication.

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As a side note, when this story was first posted on this blog (that the jackrabbits had disappeared) it generated a very long thread of comments!






  1. Cowboy the Cat Avatar

    Thanks for posting this, Ralph. I was skeptical of this claim when I first heard it, based on my own experiences in and around the GYE.

  2. Steve Braun Avatar

    I was also skeptical of the claim regarding the jackrabbit’s extinction from Greater Yellowstone- I took a pictures of one in Bozeman this past winter. There is a lot of sign as well in the Bozeman area.
    If anyone would like a copy of the picture please let me know.

  3. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    There’s a bit of history here. Joel Berger’s wife Kim Berger has been researching pronghorn antelope in Jackson Hole for several years for her doctoral dissertation in wildlife ecology. Much of her work has already been published in peer reviewed journals and has received considerable press and public attention, not all of it accurate, as we’ve seen with Bob Wharff’s misrepresentations of her research on the relationship among wolves, coyotes, and pronghorns. (I hope to clarify in an essay some things shortly on just how inaccurate the attention, specifically Bob Wharff’s comments, has been).

    Joel has been doing a lot of work with moose and predators in Jackson Hole at the same time and during his and his wife’s research they have noticed that whitetailed jackrabbits were absent in Jackson Hole, and they wondered what the impact of the absence of such prey, which normally ought to be there, might be on pronghorn fawns. That’s when Joel began looking into the presence or absence of jacks throughout the ecosystem, and he relied, perhaps too much, on informants. As I’ve mentioned on this blog, I researched the issue for him here in the Upper Wind River Valley. I reported that we have jacks here, but in no great densities, and speculated, based upon interviews with local old-timers, that a tularemia epidemic in the 1930s and continuing coyote/raptor predation might be responsible for observed low densities today. (The Upper ‘Wind River Valley is a paradise for raptors, by the way. They’re all here). Another important predator of jacks is the four-wheeled, gas-driven, high speed human go-cart. Most of jacks I see are squashed on the roads.

    I suspect that Joel’s focus on the perceived need to reintroduce jacks to Jackson Hole to serve as a buffer prey for coyotes vis a vis pronghorn fawns caused him to jump the gun on his claims and in his paper before clarifying the facts about jacks elsewhere in the ecosystem. It’s the kind of mistake that the most accomplished of us have made and will continued to make, and it certainly doesn’t take away from Joel’s extraordinary abilities as a scientist and naturalist. I have the utmost respect for his work.

  4. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    Don’t know exactly why, perhaps it’s genetic, but whenever Bob Wharff, Executive Director for Some Sportsmen for Some Fish and All The Big Game and Predators We Can Legally Kill of Wyoming, is mentioned in a post, my predator-type eyes sharpen up to watch for misrepresentations, mis-characterizations and outright lies and my predator-type nose perks up to sniff out bullshit.

    Mack P. Bray
    My opinions are my own

  5. JEFF E Avatar
    JEFF E

    I suspect that the smelling of bullshit is more of a realization of that there is so much of it from that source that the challenge is more of not stepping in it than having trouble seeking it out.:*)

  6. Mack P. Bray Avatar
    Mack P. Bray

    HA…! JEFF E, thanks for the laugh…!

    I’d better clean my boots…

  7. Buffaloed Avatar

    As well, Bob Wharff has admitted here that he is a utilitarian which is just another name for a person with no ethics. Ethics just get in the way of profits or whatever someone wants to kill for fun. Ethics are difficult for a utilitarian to understand because “common sense” dictates to them that they should only do what is best for themselves and let the rest of the world adapt to their “well thought out” actions.

    If you take the utilitarian line of thought to it’s logical conclusion you have wildlife, people, land, and all resources privately owned by the “strongest” among us and any means to get to that point is okay. “The ends justify the means”.

    Well, it’s not okay. There is a right and a wrong and society does not function with utilitarian ideals. Someone or something always gets screwed because those ideals don’t take anyone or anything into account.

    I see Robert Fanning accuse biologists of just wanting to make money from these studies but I guarantee you that biologists don’t make much money. In fact, a great many of the biologists I know are struggling just like everyone else. No biologist does this kind of work for the money unless they are working for some kind of corporation that wants to steal from the public resources. I don’t know a single biologist who owns an extravagant home or lives an extravagant lifestyle unless they have inherited money from some other source.

  8. Matt Avatar

    I wondered about this. I was in Yellowstone (staying just North of Gardiner) for a week in early February and saw (what I thought) were many white-tailed jackrabbits.

  9. Jon Way Avatar

    We have many of those same “utilitirians” back east and here in Massachusetts. They often determine wildlife policies because of their hunting license fees despite much more money spent state-wide on wildlife watching, but that money going to the general economy.

  10. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Well put Buffaloed.

    If people are not angry, then they have turned a blind eye or just haven’t opened their eyes.

    I like they way Mark Twain said it; “It ain’t the things you don’t know, it’s the things you know that ain’t so.”

  11. Mike Post Avatar
    Mike Post

    The sad thing is, this kind of error can be used to denigrate other biological studies. One common thread in this blog is that wildlife and conservation decisions should be based upon good science and not the lobbying of special interest groups. If science and scientists can be discredited generally by citing events like this, then we are all worse off.

  12. Buffaloed Avatar

    I agree but when the discussion came up on this website it wasn’t the so called “browns” that noticed something was wrong. It was a hot topic and there was a lot of speculation (and I include myself in that too) but the truth was evident through people’s observations.

    I look at incidents like the lynx study where there were people like Butch Otter who tried to make it look like the biologists were trying to falsify the DNA evidence but in reality they were trying to make sure that there were control samples so that when a real sample was identified they knew that what they were getting back from the lab was correct. They wanted to know that the lab was doing a good job. This is actually a common practice but there will always be assholes like Butch Otter who will try to make political hay out of it. They are usually seen for what they are.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan