Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit. Photo by H. Ulmscheider and R. Dixon on Wikimedia Commons

By Mona Delgado, age 10

The small gray mammals known as the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits lost more than half of their population due to the Pearl Hill and Cold Springs wildfires in Washington. In early September, the wildfires destroyed the pygmy rabbits’ natural habitat.

Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits are the smallest breed of rabbit in North America. Due to their size, they are prey for a lot of animals, such as coyotes, badgers and owls. Pygmy rabbits live in and eat a dry woody plant called sagebrush. The sagebrush acted as fuel for the fires to burn through 60 miles in just 24 hours.

Many homes and businesses were also destroyed in the fires, but the pygmy rabbit species has been hit particularly hard. The rabbits have been struggling to remain around since before the dangerous wildfires. 

Pygmy rabbits have been an endangered species for 17 years. In 2004, they started to disappear from the wild because of land development, agriculture and wildfires. Many had been introduced back into the wild in 2011 after they had been kept in captive breeding programs. But even the areas the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect with the captive breeding programs were greatly impacted by the wildfires. It will be difficult to get the population back to normal without the area to breed them. 

Scientists agree that the wildfires are largely caused by climate change. Because of the wildfires, we are losing endangered animals, plants and even human lives. A United Nations report from 2019 revealed that at least 1 million species could be facing extinction due to climate change.