PINGREE, Idaho — Eastern Idaho hay farmer Dewey Stander has enlisted employees and friends to patrol his haystacks from dusk until dawn, shooting at the hoards of hungry jackrabbits that attack during the night.
State wildlife officials say jackrabbit population cycles peak every decade or so, and an excessive regional population this season has been coupled with dense snow cover restricting their access to forage. When left unchecked, jackrabbits chew through the bases of the hay stacks, causing some to tip over or spill when the twine is severed, making bales difficult to load. Damage can add up to thousands of dollars.
Stander has spent more than $3,500 on ammunition to ward off the long-eared pests. He’s maintained a constant presence in his stack yards through the nights for more than five weeks. But he said plenty of friends were eager to take on the assignment, and their vigilance has helped keep the damage to a minimum.
After a few days of shooting, Stander said the rabbits became wise to the sound of approaching trucks.
“You’d pull in there and there’d be thousands of rabbits,” Stander said. “You couldn’t see the ground for all of the rabbits leaving.”
Pingree-area grower Doug Finicle said he’s purchased 40 boxes of shotgun shells for jackrabbit control and has only a few shells remaining. Still, he estimates he’s lost about 3 percent of his hay, though the greater burden is the labor involved re-tying severed bale twine.
“When they were at their worst, we were shooting them four times per night,” Finicle said.
Finicle also had trouble with jackrabbits last year, though this year’s pressure has been far greater.
Jason Beck, regional landowner and sportsman coordinator with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said some growers who have accepted department funding to fence hay stacks from deer and elk have also asked the department to provide mesh for the bases of stacks for jackrabbit protection. He said the department has also aided USDA Wildlife Services in responding to problems at some area farms.
Todd Sullivan, district supervisor with Wildlife Services, said jackrabbits are classified as “vertebrate pests,” like voles and coyotes. In the 1980s, Sullivan recalled communities within Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain would come together to help farmers with “bunny bashes,” rounding them up and striking them with bats. Though the methods of the past wouldn’t be condoned today, Sullivan said his office has provided growers relief from jackrabbits this season. Wildlife Services provides growers zinc phosphide poisoning and will aid in shooting jackrabbits.
In the Mud Lake area, Sullivan said some growers stacked their hay on tarps, which were pulled up over the bases of stacks, for protection from moisture. They discovered the approach also kept jackrabbits at bay, he said.
“If we have a harsh winter next year, the likelihood is a similar situation may occur,” Sullivan said. “Farmers may want to be aware of that and take precautions ahead of time.”