What many students and faculty consider to be adorable furry friends have in fact presented many not so adorable problems on campus. It is next to impossible to walk to classes without encountering at least one rabbit along the way. Even amid the harsh winter cold and snow, the rabbits appear comfortable as they have made the campus of Rocky Mountain College their home. Though Rocky is equipped with dormitories for student accommodation, the buildings and landscapes are not built to accommodate an overpopulation of rabbits. The majority of the rabbits are domesticated animals that have been released onto campus; their burrows along with their nibbling on Rocky’s various greenery has proved to a large is- sue.
Brad Nason, Vice President for Student Life, explained that the building of the new football stadium brought to light how much damage was being done on campus by the rabbits. The construction of the side hills as well as preparation for hydro turf revealed many rabbit tunnels. This, along with the obvious rapid population growth, led to the decision to consult a professional pest removal company about how to best address the issue. This consultation resulted in the decision to live trap and relocate the rabbits that are on campus; however, Nason expressed that this decision was made without any discussions with Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks.
Nason sent an email to faculty, staff, and on campus students on January 27th saying, “What you may not be aware of is the damage they are doing to our landscaping, plants, shrubs and trees. We estimate several thousands of dollars of damage has occurred to date with no end in sight.” Nason continues, “To address the problem, we have retained the services of a pest removal company that will begin live trapping the rabbits beginning next week. The traps will not harm the animal in any way, and they will be humanely released outside of the city limits.”
The negotiated fee for these pest control services is $2,000. The number of rabbits that will be removed, the amount of time this removal will take, as well as the number of traps is unknown. Traps will be placed in discreet locations around campus. The email was addressed to on-campus students so if they should notice a trap they may be informed that any human interaction or tampering will reduce their effectiveness.
Nason added,”I would like to emphasize that we have been assured that no harm will come to the rabbits.”
The promise of humane trapping has not brought enough reassurance to many students and faculty. Though damage has been done to landscaping on campus, the rabbits have proved to be harmless to people on campus and even come as a welcomed presence to many.
Dr. Jen Bratz, Associate Academic Vice President, said, “I enjoy seeing the rabbits on campus and think they contribute to a positive college environment. I wish there could be more discussions across campus before they are trapped and relocated in harsh winter conditions.”
Aside from missing the company of Rocky’s furry friends, there are other concerns that the trapping and removal of the rabbits may lack effectiveness. Katy Anderson, a senior environmental science major, said, “I think those of us in the environmental science department are a little disheartened to see them implement an ineffective strategy for the rabbit removal. I think students need to remember these aren’t a natural species and releasing them somewhere else is not the solution. It will only cause more damage somewhere else.”
Anderson continues, “If some of the rabbits are not eradicated they will repopulate again and fast. It’s a characteristic of their species, and I am sure it is common knowledge for any pest control company.”
Facility Services is aware that pest control may have to come back a few years down the road to repeat this removal process. Nason said, “We have no intention of getting rid of all the rabbits; we are just trying to get down to a controllable and sustainable level of rabbits that is not damaging property.”
Sophomore Alexander Taylor, also an environmental science major, voiced similar concerns saying, “Because the rabbits are being located off campus and they are domesticated, they will out compete other rabbits and animals for food and shelter as well as expand the population of rabbits within that particular area. Thus, hurting the ecosystem similarly to how they hurt Rocky’s vegetation.”
Though the method of live trapping has been promised to cause no harm to the rabbits, an overall analysis of the situation shows that this may not in fact be the most humane approach. The rabbits may have numbers on their side, but Anderson explains further that, “It’s not humane to release an animal into a new environment that has adapted to the environment here. They need places to burrow and food resources like they have on the Rocky campus. Releasing them to a new environment during the winter could subject them to starvation and hypothermia.”
Perhaps not the most popular opinion, both Taylor and Anderson expressed that the most humane and effective approach would be to humanely euthanize the rabbits rather than introducing them to a new environment in the middle of winter where they are not likely to successfully adapt.
It is clear the decision to remove the rabbits from campus has the best intentions of implementing damage control in what appears, at the surface, to be the most humane way. Only time will tell the effectiveness of this strategy, but there is much skepticism on campus. Anderson explains, “I understand students’ concern about humanely handling the issue, but this doesn’t seem like the best solution. In the end, the school would be setting themselves up for a never-ending relationship with the pest control company.”