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Wildlife and Death in Glover Park

This article is all about cute little bunny rabbits – and rainbows and unicorns and pink cotton candy. OK not those last three; and the bunnies are not always so cute. In case you haven’t noticed, or like me you forget to wear your glasses outside often, the population of Glover Park has increased greatly over the last few years – not from people but from rabbits, in particular the Eastern Cottontail.

Glover Park’s rabbits have been burrowing in backyards, at the edge of parks and under brush, and their numbers are growing. They will keep their young hidden in the nest while they go out at dawn and dusk to find food. This population explosion has created an interesting ecological response – red foxes now venture out of the woods to stalk their multitudinous prey and now are spotted frequently trotting down streets and alleys and across yards, coincidentally when the rabbits are out feeding. Your outdoor cats join in the dusky hunt as well. The foxes also like mice, squirrels and rats (which is at least some natural control), but the plump and juicy rabbits seem to be at the top of the menu. In the summer when the rabbits gorge themselves on fermenting berries, they are easy prey. Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, said Dean Wormer, and the neighborhood rabbits just don’t have the urban street smarts of the squirrels and rats. For some reason, rabbits seem to believe that if they stand still they are invisible – to the foxes as well as to the cars hurtling towards them as they stand motionless in the street (DC squirrels figured out that problem long ago).

Wildlife management in DC comes within the purview of the DC Department of Energy and the Environment. DOEE updated its comprehensive Wildlife Plan in 2015 and it focuses on conservation needs, threats to wildlife and wildlife threats to habitats. They have created a ranking system for every wildlife species present in DC (it’s quite a list) known as the List of Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and they give each species an SGCN ranking from roughly 40-85, the higher scores indicating greater need. Eastern Cottontails scored only 40.7 on this scale which is not surprising considering their proliferation and breeding potential – 10-100 per female per year (at a gestation period of 28 days), which is the second highest category of breeding potential in the SGCN analysis. As mammals in DC go, the bats (Northern Long-Eared and Eastern Small-Footed) received the highest SGCN scores as those species in most need of conservation efforts.

Here’s a fun thing – DOEE currently is monitoring the population of the Eastern Cottontail in DC and they need your help! They are looking for Citizen Scientists to record their rabbit sightings which will be used by DOEE biologists in conservation efforts. Fill out this online form here or contact Lindsay Rohrbaugh by email at Somebody alert Stoddert Elementary - this is a good project.

On the flip-side, one of the biggest threats to habitats in Glover Park continues to be the white-tailed deer. The National Park Service takes charge of this population control and has begun its "deer management" plan once again, starting at the end of November and going through March 2024. The US Department of Agriculture’s crack sniper team – Deer-Team Six – will be out in Glover Archbold Park after dark with their infrared and night vision short range silenced rifles bringing down their targets. NPS has stated, “without continued management, deer populations would quickly rebound and eat nearly all tree seedlings and other plants before they could grow. Since 2013, when NPS began reducing the deer population in Rock Creek Park, the park's tree seedling density has more than doubled.” Last year was their first year in Glover Archbold Park. NPS has determined that an acceptable deer population is no more than 20 per square mile of parkland, and at one point a couple of decades ago it was at 100.

By the way, if you have a dog and they go crazy over a scent that goes here and there and everywhere, and they start to eat the dirt, it is likely they are snarfing rabbit poop. They eat it like candy – gross.

Chris Jones

Wildlife Plan Ranking
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