Bunnies, bunnies, bunnies.
It’s about all some people talk about in Langley these days, even in the hallowed halls of City Hall during Monday’s city council meeting.
What council members and the heads of departments had hoped would be a short meeting to get out in time to watch the Seattle Seahawks play the Detroit Lions was prolonged by a lengthy discussion of Langley’s role and responsibility with regard to a booming domestic rabbit population.
For years, residents have asked the city to consider doing something. It was not until the South Whidbey School District was preparing to spend $60,000 for fencing around its athletic fields to keep out rabbits that the city took an active role in addressing the perceived problem.
Rabbits have burrowed into the field, creating holes in some areas that can injure students and others running on it. There is also growing concern for the potential damage to the foundation of buildings at the Island County Fairgrounds.
Mayor Fred McCarthy informed the council he would facilitate a community meeting Tuesday night about what is known of the domestic rabbits that dot the lawns and fields around town.
The basic arguments are whether the city should use a lethal means of curbing the population, and if a lethal option is not acceptable to people, what are the sustainable means of dealing with the problem.
On Monday, however, some council members seemed wary of even having a responsibility and role to deal with the non-native critters. Councilman Jim Sundberg questioned an online petition calling for “Compassion for Langley bunnies on Whidbey Island” that has garnered more than 1,000 votes. He first stated that only about 80-90 appear to be from Langley. When signing the online petition on www.change.org, a name, street address and ZIP code are required.
Sundberg later questioned why the city was trying to “control the rabbits.” He listed herons and coyotes and other animals in town which get to live and die largely on their own, without the city pondering traps or killings.
Responding, McCarthy said residents have raised the rabbits as an issue before and the school district and Port of South Whidbey (the managing agency of the county-owned fairgrounds in Langley) asked the city to get involved. The city is beholden to its residents, said McCarthy, some of whom have sustained property damage due to rabbits tearing up their landscaping and have asked the city to address the problem.
The initial cause of the rabbits’ release is a source of some of the heel dragging. The well-accepted origin story of the domestic rabbits is that some came from an Island County Fair event known as the barnyard scramble, in which animals were released and children were allowed to try to wrangle them and take them home as pets. Some fleet-footed rabbits escaped and propagated largely unabated.
“But the city didn’t release them,” Sundberg said.
Having had rabbit problems, Sundberg said he used a readily available, natural repellent to keep rabbits off his lawn. People should take care of their own, he said.
“Individuals can find solutions that fit their needs for their properties,” Sundberg said.
One of the large lingering questions the city, school district and port want answered is the scope and size of the population. How far out are these domestic rabbits spotted? How many are there?
Representing the two sides of the lethal argument are Steve Layman, a local falconry expert who once helped San Juan Island address a rabbit overpopulation problem with birds of prey, and Mel Watson, the Langley resident who started the online petition to spare them from falconry.
“We’ve gotta get a baseline and it’s gotta be done by somebody who has credibility to both sides (of the issue),” McCarthy said.
“There’s an awful lot of feelings here,” he added. “… Our outcome is not removing the bunnies, it’s just getting the numbers down.”
Watson’s credentials came into question by Councilwoman Robin Black.
She said she knew Layman was a well-respected raptor expert and someone who had professionally dealt with rodent populations using raptors. Watson, someone she said she knew and loved, may not stand up to the same kind of “expert” scrutiny.
Gill said perhaps the simple solution will be the best for the city. Provide a list of options to residents on the city’s website and at City Hall, and let them decide if a live trap or lethal means are more suitable.
Councilwoman Rene Neff asked what the next step, after the Tuesday, Oct. 6 community meeting about rabbits, will be. McCarthy said the school district, port and he will review information and input by those at the meeting and form a plan.
Another meeting is possible but not currently planned.