Creature comforts: Rabbit roundup planned for Woodland Park

They're warm and fuzzy, and people just love to feed them. But the hundreds of rabbits living in and around Woodland Park have got to go, according to Seattle Parks and Recreation.

For one thing, they're tearing up the landscape, explained Barb DeCaro, a resource coordinator with the parks department. However, unlike an overabundance of Canadian geese that fouled the city's parks, the bunnies won't face euthanasia because their population isn't as large as the geese's and the impacts are not as big, she said.

Instead, the rabbits are destined to live at the Rabbit Meadow Sanctuary in Redmond after they've been spayed and neutered, DeCaro said last week at a Board of Park Commissioners meeting.

Woodland Park, as an Olmstead park, has a Vegetation Management Plan, and the VMP for 2003 noted that the rabbits were having "a serious impact on trees," she said.

The problem: the rabbit burrows were damaging the root systems, which can kill trees, which can eliminate habitat for other wildlife in the park. The burrows can also pose a tripping hazard to people - especially if the burrows collapse.

In 2004, the rabbits had spread beyond central Woodland Park, forming satellite colonies that reached halfway around Green Lake and, lately, clear up to the Bathhouse Theatre, DeCaro said.

"We decided to work on a solution to this problem." But it had to be a non-lethal solution, according to the park's VMP.

"It's a pretty complicated project," she said of dealing with an estimated 300 to 500 of the critters. There didn't use to be that many. "It's very likely they were abandoned there originally," DeCaro said of first genera-tions of pet rabbits that owners decided to get rid of.

Factor in a reproduction rate that sees a rabbit having up to 72 bunny babies a year, and the numbers built up fairly quickly, she said. Horribly, an increase in baby rabbits has sparked an increase in the population of rats, which find them to be easy pickings, DeCaro grimaced.

Pets in the wild

"We do know the public enjoys the rabbits," DeCaro conceded. But the public's habit of feeding them is also a big problem because they get used to people.

And getting used to people can put the rabbits in harm's way, according to Mark Pilger, who lives near Green Lake. He's taken in two rabbits he rescued from the park - one of which was living under cars, he said.

Some visitors to the park sic their off-leash dogs on the rabbits, throw rocks at them and shoot them with BB guns, he said at the Park Board meeting. "I've buried so many dead rabbits," Pilger added.

Pilger's girlfriend, Carrie Brit-tingham, said rabbits make great pets. However, she understands some change their minds about that, which can exacerbate the problem at Woodland Park. "The presence of so many rabbits will lead more people to drop them off," she said.

Park Board chairwoman Kate Pflaumer suggested the department post more signs in the park telling people not to release rabbits there, but she conceded it would be difficult to enforce the policy.

The pricey plan

Parks spent around nine months to come up with a solution to the problem by working with the Seattle Animal Shelter, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and the House Rabbit Society, which runs the Rabbit Meadow Sanctuary, DeCaro said. "We've just now got to a really good, formal plan."

Assuming the Park Board approves the plan at its December meeting, and assuming Parks Superintendent Ken Bounds also signs off on it, House Rabbit Society volunteers will start capturing the rabbits in January, she said.

The volunteers will use 8-foot-by-8-foot traps baited with carrots, apples and sweet things, said Sandi Ackerman, who heads up the House Rabbit group.

The goal is to set up traps near all of the rabbit warrens until the animals are all gone, DeCaro said. "It will happen in a series of days."

Once the rabbits are captured, they will be temporarily relocated to a Parks building in Magnuson Park. Volunteers will then take them to veterinarians who will spay and neuter them - as long as the rabbits are healthy, she added.

The rabbits will be then be returned to Magnuson Park to recuperate from surgery before they're taken to the 4.5-acre Eastside sanctuary. "We have room for as many as you can get," Ackerman said.

The project won't be cheap. Parks estimates it will cost $100 per rabbit, which brings the potential price tag to $50,000, assuming there are 500 rabbits living at Woodland Park.

The parks department will be responsible for supervisory costs, the costs for the use of the Magnuson Park building and the cost to restore the landscape in the park.

The landscape-restoration effort is eligible for Community Response Fund financing, and the department's forestry staff will submit an application, according to a Parks press release.

However, both Parks staff and the nonprofit House Rabbit Society will be responsible for raising money to defray the cost of spaying and neutering the rabbits, DeCaro said.

Those wishing to contribute can send checks to House Rabbit Society-Washington at P.O Box 3242, Redmond, WA 98073.

Staff reporter Russ Zabel can be reached at 461-1309 or

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