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Reenactors help bring joint military occupation to life for visiting members of Congress

Top photo: From right, Bryn Barnard presents a letter to Rep. David Obey, chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, outlining Save Our Bunnies
Top photo: From right, Bryn Barnard presents a letter to Rep. David Obey, chairman of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, outlining Save Our Bunnies' concerns about the proposed removal of rabbits from the American Camp prairie. Barnard met Obey Sunday at a reenactment at English Camp. Bottom photo: Reenactors helped bring the joint military occupation to life for a congressional delegation visiting the region's national parks.
— image credit: Jane K. Fox

Military life during the joint military occupation of 1859-1872 was brought to life Sunday at English Camp for at least two members of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee.

The island visit by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the Appropriations Committee; and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., chairman of the Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, reportedly arrived on the island Saturday to visit with National Park officials here and depart Monday. The visit is part of a tour of national parks in the region.

The visit comes as the local national park is working on restoring the American Camp prairie -- which likely involves removing rabbits from 600 acres. Also coming up is the realignment of a portion of Cattle Point Road; part of the road is threatened by bluff erosion.

At English Camp, members of Save Our Bunnies presented a letter to Obey, outlining their concerns about the removal of rabbits from the prairie. Later, Obey told The Journal he had no opinion about the American Camp prairie restoration, and that the purpose of his visit was "to look at as many parks as possible and to see their use of Recovery money and other money."

While the committee's visit was related to funding for national parks, members of Save Our Bunnies hoped to focus the committee's attention on the plan to remove rabbits from the American Camp prairie. They rallied Saturday on the corner of Spring Street and Argyle Avenue, in front of Wells Fargo Bank, the day of the Congress members' arrival.

San Juan Island National Historical Park proposes removing the European rabbits, an introduced species, from the American Camp prairie in order to facilitate prairie restoration and protect cultural resources — resources park officials say are threatened by the rabbits' burrowing.

One of the removal methods proposed: shooting.

The local National Park office reported receiving 71 submitted comments regarding the rabbit removal plan. But Save Our Bunnies reports it submitted 350 petition signatures calling for an alternative to killing the rabbits.

"We also want transparency regarding the activities of the National Park Service at both American Camp and English Camp ..." the petition states.

Save Our Bunnies is also concerned about the use and impact of herbicides on the prairie.

Only 3 percent of prairies remain
Prairies are increasingly rare in Western Washington. All told, the American Camp prairie is about 600 acres, almost the same size as Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve in Littlerock. Mima Mounds is managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Hannah Anderson, who coordinates the recovery of rare species for the Nature Conservancy, said "not more than 3 percent of the historic extent" of Washington's prairies exist today, gone to make way for agriculture and development.

Anderson said prairies are important because they are home to rare and declining species, including animals, insects and plants that only live on prairies. Prairie grasses help sustain some of the world's oxygen. "There's a huge biomass in grasses," she said

"Each prairie is its own special system. When we have so little left, we have to conserve what remains."

Rabbit population in decline
The rabbit population is at its lowest since 1985, according to National Park rabbit population counts. The population in winter 1973 was estimated at 8,400 on 827.8 acres of prime habitat, and 1,700 on 415.1 acres at American Camp. The population in spring 2005 was estimated at 1,818 on 173 acres of prime habitat at American Camp.

University of Washington's College of Forest Resources estimated the population on those 173 acres as between 95 and 330 in 2009 and 414-884 this year. Many rabbits can now be found in hedgerows near the laundress' quarters and the Eagle Cove boundary.

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