Wascally wabbits wreak havoc in Langley

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All kidding aside, rabbits have become an downright nuisance in Langley. So much so that a meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Island County Fairgrounds to have a community conversation about the growing nuisance.

It all seemed harmless years ago, when a barnyard scramble was held during the Island County Fair. A few bunnies escaped and hopped off to freedom. As is the way with rabbits, those few escapees grew up and had babies of their own, and so on, and so on. Now, what officials think could be hundreds of these feral, domesticated rabbits have become a real problem.

Because they are domestic rabbits, they don’t live in the woods. They tend to stay in and around town, living in the bushes along property lines, in ditches along streets and in grassy areas. While it’s fairly common to see several of the creatures as you make your way around town, officials say that’s likely only about half (or less) of the population. And when you get that many rabbits around, they want to eat.

“On the city’s side of things there has been damage to shrubbery and flowers,” said Langley mayor Fred McCarthy. “Some people believe the rabbits may be responsible for spreading disease to a couple of dogs and cats, although we don’t have any definitive proof of that.”

There is evidence of other damage, however.

“These rabbits dig holes and undermine foundations for shelter,” said South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia in an email response to Whidbey Daily News. “You can see this clearly looking at the ground around the Langley Middle School and the foundations at the fairgrounds.”

While an exact dollar figure is not available regarding how much has been spent dealing with the problem, Moccia said countless hours of labor have been spent putting up fencing and removing tempting hiding places.

“This is especially true when repairing fields for use by students for PE, athletic contests, etc.,” wrote Moccia. “In addition, the feces all around the fields is disgusting.”

South Whidbey School District Maintenance Director Brian Miller said the main problems have been holes in the athletic fields from normal foraging and yes, the amount of feces left behind..

“Like any wild animal, there are some diseases and parasites linked to the rabbits’ feces, but there’s no evidence of that spreading,” said Miller.

Besides filling the holes and removing feces, the school district is trying to reduce potential habitat by making it less hospitable for the bunnies.

“We’ve trimmed bushes and have eliminated one area of bushes in the middle school courtyard,” Miller said. “We’ve graded the soil and put in pavers and four new plants that have wire around the roots. So we’ve improved the look of the area while making it an area less likely to attract the rabbits.”

While unofficial, Miller said he’s seen the typical number of rabbits sighted at the middle school courtyard drop from 15 to 20 daily to three to five daily.

“It does seem to be working,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting will be structured in such a way as to enable those attending to see some of the damage the rabbit shelters, or warrens, have done to building foundations at the fairgrounds. Local expert Steve Layman will be there to discuss options on how the population could potentially be controlled. One possible idea includes using raptors, birds of prey, to hunt the rabbits.

That idea has made one local woman, Mel Watson, start an online petition, in which she encourages the city to seek a more compassionate solution.

“I have created this petition in the hope that the people of Langley would take a more compassionate approach to the increase in rabbit population in our town. It is possible to catch, spay and neuter and release these rabbits back into the shared habitat of Langley, or find suitable kindhearted folks to adopt them as indoor pets,” reads the petition. Watson could not be reached for comment.

The rabbit issue has shone a spotlight on Langley, with news coverage from a Seattle television station and Huffington Post. Watson’s online petition had gathered 800 signatures by Monday afternoon, but only about 100 of those were from Whidbey Island residents, said McCarthy.

A committee made up of representatives from the city, the school district and the Island County Fairgrounds was set up several months ago to address the rabbit issue. That’s where ideas on how to control the feral rabbit population thus far have come from. The upcoming meeting was the committee’s idea.

“We’re listening,” said McCarthy. “We want to talk, listen and if we can, come up with some kind of consensus.”

“The problem is clear,” said Moccia. “That is, the population has grown and we are seeing the effects of it. The next steps are what the meeting is about.”

The meeting will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Island County Fairgrounds in Langley. For information on the online petition, click here.

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