Jack Rabbits are Imperiled

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

The ongoing assault on the Sagebrush Sea claims another victim:  Jackrabbits

Another animal most commonly considered a pest and valued by the western Cowboy “Custom & Culture” for little more than target-practice, jackrabbits, are disappearing from the landscape:

Jack Rabbit Populations Are Under Study In Washington StateOPB News

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

Audio via OPB News


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I saw my first jack rabbits in a couple years this summer. It was in Wyoming west of Daniel.

    If things keep on the way they are going, the only bit of the West that is left will be the political and economic inequality.

  2. WM Avatar

    Interesting topic sentence for this OPB piece. I was just down in the John Day River country in OR last week. We saw lots of jack rabbits (coyotes, too), in the sagebrush which is very slowly being taken over by less water hungry juniper, which the ranchers don’t like. All you had to do was walk out into the sage and they popped out, running like they did when I was a kid, in Eastern WA.

    Don’t know what to make of the Hanford situation. Maybe its got something to do with the nuclear and chemical history of the site. There is plenty of that left to study, and worry about.

    I have an inquiry in with some folks who live in that general area. Will report if I hear from them before taking off to ID to hunt elk in wolf country near the Lolo.

    1. jon Avatar

      WM, when you come back, can you give a report on what you saw? I would like to know how many wolves and elk you see on your hunting adventures.

      1. jon Avatar

        Also wm, if you can, please take pictures. I would like to see some and I am sure others on here would as well. Thanks

    2. Ryan Avatar

      There were a ton of them the last 2 years in high desert of Oregon. This is probably the last good year for them as the ones I have seen are full of worms and parasites. This is just part of the cycle like Hares and lemmings have. There are a ton of coyotes this year as well.

      1. Tom Page Avatar
        Tom Page

        There are multitudes in the high desert valleys of the Upper Salmon basin this year. On average this summer, I see a dozen jackrabbits and conservatively another two dozen assorted other species per day. The raptors and the coyotes (of which there are also multitudes) are feasting.

  3. pointswest Avatar

    In about 1980, I lived in the Hanford area (Kenniwick) for about a year. I do not recall seeing any jack rabbits there. There were some to the east towards Yakima and the Cascades where the country was a little higher in elevation.

    If there has been a decline in rabbits in the Hanford Area, my first guess would be climate change.

    1. Mal Adapted Avatar
      Mal Adapted

      I moved from the east coast to Kennewick in 1996, and I saw my first jack rabbits a few blocks from my house shortly thereafter. During the two years I lived there, my recollection is that jack rabbits were abundant, not just on the protected areas of shrub-steppe but on the degraded lands near the Tri-Cities.

      Just an anecdote, of course. YMMV.

  4. ProWolf in WY Avatar
    ProWolf in WY

    The only place where I have consistently seen jackrabbits is around Casper. If you drive up by the Events Center at night you have to avoid hitting them. I have heard people in Wyoming say that jackrabbits will eat young cottontails. I have a hard time believing that and kind of feel stupid for asking, but has anyone else heard that?

    1. SEAK Mossback Avatar
      SEAK Mossback

      As I kid in Nenana, Alaska in the early 1960’s, I went along with a family that snared snowshoe hares — a common practice among natives there and a very effective way of putting up food when they are at or near the peak of the cycle. Snowshoes will eat another dead hare in a snare.

  5. Jeff Avatar

    I grew up in Kansas, they are abundant there as well as cottontails. I believe there are both Blacktail and Whitetail Jackrabbits, I can’t remember where the ranges exist/overlap. I did see a snowshoe hare is summer coat this year near McCoy Creek at Palisades Reservoir.

  6. Maska Avatar

    Black-tailed jackrabbits are pretty common in the Chihuahuan Desert in southern New Mexico, as well as in the Gila region and other parts of southwestern NM. So far, I can’t say we’ve seen a great fluctuation in numbers in the fifteen years we’ve lived here, although I’m sure there are some ups and downs. Coyotes, too, are common, as are desert cottontails.

    We do seem to be seeing more gray foxes recently than I recall from a few years ago–including right in our city neighborhood–but it may be that we are just more aware of their presence and are looking for them when we’re out at night.

  7. WM Avatar

    Just got an email from someone who spent alot of time living and recreating around Hanford. Do recognize that civilians have been prohibited access to the actual reservation for many years. My folks had a flat tire on the road that cuts thru to cross the Columbia at Vernita in the late 60’s, when I was a kid. Within minutes Army three jeeps showed up with heavily armed occupants – and not real friendly. Security was that tight then. I do not know what access is like today. I expect it is much more relaxed, except areas with nuclear waste risks.

    Anyway, my source says not so many jack rabbits as when he was a kid forty years ago. He thinks it is related to habitat, but doesn’t know what the underlying cause might be. Habitat, but ok, what caused the decline – more likely chemical or nuclear with effects on vegetation AND the bunnies themselves.

    Here is one possible explanation in a Rachael Madow piece (watch the video – portions are funny, but alarming and sad, as well):

    Radioactive rabbit poop –

  8. Ron Avatar

    I live on a large ranch in South Texas directly on the Rio Grande. Ten to fifteen years ago blacktail jackrabbits were abundant. You’d see 20 or more on an average day and more at night. About 7 years ago I noticed that jackrabbits had virtually disappeared which I incorrectly attributed to increasing mesquite [jackrabbits prefer open country]. At the same time, though, I was seeing fewer and fewer jackrabbits–alive or dead–along our roadways at night. Many of the ranches adjacent to the roads were open country i.e. NOT brushed up.

    I had occasion to drive to California twice during the last five years and drove through hundreds of miles of what used to be superb blacktail jackrabbit country in the country between Del Rio and El Paso. Again–not one single jackrabbit–not even squashed on the highway. This country used to show literally hundreds of jackrabbits during this same drive, especially at night. I didn’t start seeing Jackrabbits again until I entered the alphalfa country of southern New Mexico. Even then I only saw two or three old road kills.

    During the last two seasons I traveled to South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively, to hunt wild turkeys. I spent days hunting in excellent appearing whitetail jackrabbit country. I saw one immature whitetail jack in next to a haybale and South Dakota and didn’t see a single whitetail jack–living or dead–in Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana.

    In my opinion, something is very wrong and this goes much deeper than simple population cycles. Such down-cycles don’t last as long and certainly don’t occur across such a broad expanse of country. One commentator claims that Washinton Fish and Wildlife released a ‘virus’ years ago and that this virus has gone ‘viral’ and is wiping out jackrabbit populations almost everywhere. I don’t know if there is any truth in this.

    One thing I know is that the various F and W departments aren’t paying any attention to this very real problem. I’ve tried to speak to Texas Parks and Wildlife people a couple of times about it but all I get is a prolonged yawn. Blacktail jacks aren’t regarded as ‘game’ in Texas and, evidentally, agents don’t have enough intellectual or practical curiosity to follow up on the cause of this decline. It isn’t habitat and it isn’t overhunting. Neither is it widescale starvation or devastating predation. It must be a communicable disease…but…precisely what disease and does it have a chance of skipping over into other game populations?


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Brian Ertz