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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

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Florida faces lawsuits over its new election law, a medical board fines an Indiana doctor for speaking about a 10-year-old's abortion, and Minnesota advocates say threats to cut SNAP funds are off the mark.

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The White House and Speaker McCarthy gain support to pass their debt ceiling agreement, former President Donald Trump retakes the lead in a new GOP primary poll, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is impeached.

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The growing number of "maternity care deserts" makes having a baby increasingly dangerous for rural Americans, a Colorado project is connecting neighbor to neighbor in an effort to help those suffering with mental health issues, and a school district in Maine is using teletherapy to tackle a similar challenge.

Western Groups File Petition to Protect Continent's Smallest Rabbit

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Tuesday, March 7, 2023   

Advocates are petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to save the smallest rabbit species in North America, the pygmy rabbit. Its habitat, the so-called Sagebrush Sea of the Intermountain West, stretches from Oregon to Wyoming. At less than a pound, the rabbit takes shelter in the sagebrush to hide from predators and look for food.

Miranda Crowell, a University of Nevada, Reno researcher and PhD candidate who studies pygmy rabbits in southeastern Oregon and Nevada, said the Sagebrush Sea is under threat.

"Sagebrush habitat historically has been converted to agriculture and has been heavily grazed, and so the habitat is just continuing to be degraded and fragmented over time and their suitable habitat is shrinking," Crowell said.

Groups across the West filed a petition on Monday to list the pygmy rabbit under the Endangered Species Act.

Vera Smith, senior federal lands policy analyst with the group Defenders of Wildlife, said because the pygmy rabbit relies on sagebrush, threats to the habitat are threats to the species. Wildfires present one of the biggest threats and are a growing problem.

"Fire's a natural part of our western habitats and ecosystems," she said, "but with climate change fires are becoming bigger and more frequent. In the past 40 years, we've seen about 26 million acres in the pygmy habitat range burn. That's about 15%."

Smith added invasive species like cheatgrass also increase the risk from wildfires, and a contagious and deadly virus is threatening pygmy rabbits as well, she said.

She said the rabbits' burrows create shelter for other species and also provide food and improve the habitat in other ways.

"What they leave behind can contribute to nutrient recycling in the soil. So they're just really an important species for the maintenance and function of sagebrush ecosystems," she said.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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