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Home » News/Events » The Journal » July 2011 » River Partners Recognized for Species Recovery Efforts

River Partners Recognized for Species Recovery Efforts

By Julie Rentner,
San Joaquin Regional Director

In recognition of actions undertaken to rescue riparian brush rabbits from rising floodwaters this spring, River Partners staff along with partners at the Endangered Species Recovery Program (ESRP) at California State University Stanislaus and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex were awarded Certificates of Appreciation from the Central Valley Project Improvement Act Habitat Restoration Program and the Central Valley Project Conservation Program (CVPIA HRP/CVPCP).

On March 29, 2011 the canals breached at the San Joaquin River NWR, and teams mobilized to rescue rabbits from the rising waters. More than 120 riparian brush rabbits were collected from constructed and restored high elevation refugia, and relocated to safer grounds by dedicated ESRP and USFWS staff. River Partners supported the effort by keeping the team informed of developments and documenting the flood effects through mapping, aerial photography, and email updates. We also learned valuable lessons in brush rabbit habitat requirements during these trying times, observing the diet and habitat preferences of this imperiled species which will be incorporated into upcoming habitat restoration work.

While some rabbits tragically perished in the flood, the coordinated efforts of the entire team during the floods as well as in the dry years between 2006 and 2011, resulted in significantly less devastation for the brush rabbit population as compared to regional floods in 1997 or 2006. The collaboration amongst researchers, land managers and habitat restorationists serves as a model in species recovery. River Partners continues to collaborate on floodplain restoration configurations to optimize recovery of this and other terrestrial riparian-obligate species through the highly effective Riparian Mammals Technical Group.

Illustration of River Partners’ high water refugia for the riparian brush rabbit, also known as “bunny mounds.”

The CVPIA HRP/CVPCP, a Program run jointly by the US Bureau of Reclamation and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, has contributed invaluable support to the riparian brush rabbit recovery effort for more than six years. This program has provided funding to expand the restoration of brush rabbit refugia to more than 1.8 miles of existing levees and 4.5 acres of existing high ground at San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge in the coming year using techniques pioneered by River Partners and proven effective through the toughest trials this spring. These important restoration projects will substantially increase the acreage of existing suitable high-ground refugia in the region and allow the recovering rabbit population to more effectively weather inevitable flooding and to quickly repopulate the restored and remnant floodplain habitats as floodwaters recede.

The above article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of the River Partners Journal.