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Tribal advocates keep up legal pressure for fair political maps; 12-member jury sworn in for Trump's historic criminal trial; the importance of healthcare decision planning; and a debt dilemma: poll shows how many people wrestle with college costs.

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Civil rights activists say a court ruling could end the right to protest in three southern states, a federal judge lets January 6th lawsuits proceed against former President Trump, and police arrest dozens at a Columbia University Gaza protest.

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Rural Wyoming needs more vocational teachers to sustain its workforce pipeline, Ohio environmental advocates fear harm from a proposal to open 40-thousand forest acres to fracking and rural communities build bike trail systems to promote nature, boost the economy.

Petition Seeks Protection for Pygmy Rabbits Across West

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Thursday, March 9, 2023   

Conservation groups in Utah and across the western United States are requesting protection for the pygmy rabbit under the Endangered Species Act.

A petition sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the world's smallest rabbit is at risk of extinction because of habitat loss and disease.

Allison Jones, a conservation biologist, said the pygmy rabbit population has been on the decline for many years, with Utah for example having alarmingly low occupancy rates between seven and 13% in areas outside the northern portions of Utah. Jones pointed out the small mammals are not likely to bounce back because of the continued degradation and fragmentation of the Sagebrush Sea.

"The pygmy rabbit as an obligate of healthy, functioning Sagebrush ecosystem is kind of a canary in the coal mine for the intermountain West sagebrush ecosystem, and the ecosystem is in big trouble," Jones asserted.

Jones explained the loss of the pygmy rabbit's habitat is being threatened by more intense fires, invasive plant species, climate change and drought as well as development and extractive practices. She called the confounding effects the "perfect storm," which could lead to the disappearance of the pygmy rabbit in portions of the Sagebrush Sea.

Vera Smith, senior federal land policy analyst for Defenders of Wildlife, said in addition to habitat loss, a new virus has also heavily affected wild rabbit populations, with the pygmy rabbit being no exception.

Smith added if the Fish and Wildlife Service concurs the pygmy rabbit population data is alarming, groups like hers would like to see a "coordinated strategy" across the Western U.S. to enable the tiny rabbits to recover.

"For us, one of the very important things that the recovery strategy would hopefully point to is that we need to be more deliberate about protecting habitat and connecting habitat across the Sagebrush Sea," Smith emphasized.

Smith argued the Endangered Species Act listing would offer the best chance at protecting not only the small rabbit, but also its rapidly vanishing habitat, which she called vital for the recovery of the species.


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