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January 26: Thieving Rabbits

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According to North Dakota State University Extension and Ag Research News, rabbits are responsible for killing more trees in winter than cold temperatures. Rabbits eat the bark off young trees, especially fruit trees, to get to the sugar-rich tissue just below the bark. If a tree loses bark all the way around its circumference, it is likely going to die.

Arborists are accustomed to fighting a running battle with rabbits. Plastic pipes and wraps can protect the trees, but when there is substantial snow build-up, the rabbits will just climb the drifts and eat the bark higher. Arborists know that the work of years can be gone over the course of one winter.

On this date in 1916, the Fargo Forum and Daily Republican alerted readers to a jackrabbit invasion. Farmers reported an influx of “tree-eating, dog-fighting and thieving rabbits.” Farmers were suffering significant losses and great aggravation.

One farmer said he sent his farm dog out to chase off a big jackrabbit. The rabbit fought with the dog for fifteen minutes until the rabbit finally took to its heels. But the dog was now afraid of rabbits. Another farmer had a similar tale. He said his usually reliable hunting dog would have nothing to do with rabbits. Other farmers reported damaged stores of hay as well as trees.

The rabbit problem was not confined to the countryside. A Fargo nightwatchman reported that rabbits were doing scavenger work in town. They came out at night and helped themselves to the contents in trash cans. He noted that more and more of them were coming every night.

Jackrabbits continue to cause aggravation in North Dakota. In the winter of 2015, it was widely reported that rabbits were invading neighborhoods. The Christian Science Monitor published an article about rabbits the size of small dogs creating havoc for Fargo homeowners. One woman said that when she first started seeing them, she thought they were cute. But more and more rabbits began destroying shrubs, trees and grass as well as leaving massive amounts of droppings behind. The story even turned up on the ABC Nightly News. The jackrabbit population varies from year to year, but jackrabbits will likely continue as a prominent member of North Dakota’s wildlife.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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