Saskatoon officials unsure of how to deal with thriving hare population

Saskatoon's supervisor of pest management says he doesn't have exact figures, but he knows based on the number of calls the city receives that the local hare population is "definitely high." Jeff Boone also says he doesn't have an explanation for the increase.

City's pest management supervisor says he doesn't know why the population has grown in recent years

Hares have become a more common sight on Saskatoon lawns in recent years. (Steve Pasqualotto/CBC)

Saskatoon's pest management supervisor says he doesn't know why the city seems to be dealing with a large number of hares.

Jeff Boone said he can't provide exact numbers, because Saskatoon doesn't have a city-wide monitoring program, but that anecdotally the population of jackrabbits — which are hares — is thriving.

"Just based on the number of calls we're getting over the years, the numbers are definitely high and have probably been high for the last few years," he said.

Boone said there are quite a few coyotes and foxes in the city, but there doesn't seem to be a classic predator-prey mechanism keeping the numbers in check.

"Whatever the cause of the buildup, there's certainly lots of rabbits out there," he said. "But there's lots of coyotes, lots of foxes."

"They're a common part of the urban landscape, too. But they're certainly not making a difference in the rabbit population."

The City of Regina tried a control program last year and earlier this year, but suspended culling the animals after some questioned the effectiveness of trapping and killing them.

Boone said he is interested to hear directly from Regina officials about whether they thought the program was successful.

"Some of what I'm hearing around rabbit trapping is it's kind of like a bucket-in-an-ocean scenario," he said. "You pull them out, and they in-fill very quickly because the population is very high and and it's something that's very hard to bring down across a whole city landscape."

Boone said it is legal for residents to use traps on private property within the city, but that it must be done with caution to make sure other animals aren't trapped.

He said he was unaware of a city-wide control measure that is effective.

"We're kind of reaching out to other communities at this point to see what options are in place for rabbit control," he said. "But, at this point, we don't know of any solutions that work on a city-wide scale to decrease the number of rabbits."

Four hares recently congregated on a Saskatoon lawn. The local pest management supervisor doesn't know why scenes like this are becoming more common in the city . (Steve Pasqualotto/CBC)

Boone said the city does have some initiatives to protect trees in the civic nursery, because of the "pretty extensive damage" hares can do to trees.

He said shrub and tree protection is especially important in the winter months, because that's when the animals switch to chewing bark.

Boone said beyond fencing yards and caging trees, applying repellent products on trees can be effective.

He also said that while the white-tailed jackrabbits that populate Saskatoon do feed on grass, they don't feed as much on lawns.

'Something to be proud of'

A local wildlife rehabilitation expert has a different view on the explosion of hares in Saskatoon.

Jan Shadick with Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation said it's a good thing and a good sign for the city.

"Generally speaking, the health of your urban wildlife is going to define the health of your city," she said. "And so if we have lots of healthy wildlife in our city, then we have a healthy city and we have a healthy river system."

With files from Saskatoon Morning


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