Opinion

Move rabbits, but do it humanely | Editorial

The National Park and opponents of removing the American Camp rabbits are closer on this issue than they may realize.

Both sides care about the prairie. Both sides care about the species that depend on the prairie for survival. Both sides want ecosystems protected.

The opponents of removing the rabbits from the prairie say the National Park should fence off the areas it wants protected and create a grassland preserve. The National Park wants to do that. Here’s where the two sides diverge – to the National Park, the entire prairie must be a grassland preserve in order to protect the animal, insect and plant species that depend on a prairie ecosystem to survive.

So, can the rabbits stay on the prairie? No. But can they exist outside the prairie? Yes. And they will. Rabbits will continue to exist in areas neighboring American Camp, like Eagle Cove, and elsewhere on the island.

This is an important point: The National Park is not proposing that rabbits be removed from the island. The National Park is proposing that the rabbits be removed from 600 acres known as the American Camp prairie.

There’s a lesson here. Humans feed bears, bears get used to being around humans, bears pose danger to humans, bears are killed. Humans feed foxes, foxes become accustomed to handouts, foxes get run over by vehicles. Humans feed deer in campgrounds, deer become accustomed to handouts, deer become a nuisance, deer get relocated into areas where they can be hunted. Humans introduce a species to an area in which it is not native, the species knocks the ecosystem out of balance, the species must be removed. Who’s to blame? The answer is quite clear.

Should the rabbits be treated humanely? Yes, they should. Opponents of the rabbits’ removal from the prairie blanch at the thought of the animals being shot, which is one option proposed by the National Park. But humane options have been proposed: Trapping and finding the rabbits new homes; trapping, neutering and releasing back into the wild; trapping, neutering and relocating to a sanctuary. With the rabbit population at a low, a humane option is doable.

Why preserve a prairie? Prairies are increasingly rare in Western Washington. 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. Migratory birds depend on prairies for feeding and nesting. 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.”

Let’s preserve the American Camp prairie. Let’s move the rabbits off the prairie — humanely. We hope the proponents of humane treatment of the rabbits can help.

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