Hare-raising times on Duluth’s Park Point

May 21, 1999

Smokey the dog, owned by Donella Kubiak, has become quite accustomed to his rabbit friends on Park Point in May 1999. They have become used to him, too, not showing the least bit of concern as he barks at strangers. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Park Point’s hare-raising problem

Rabbit population in Duluth neighborhood growing – by leaps and bounds

By Bob Linneman, News-Tribune staff writer

Donna Scorse sees nothing bunny — make that funny — about a robust rabbit population hopping around her Park Point neighborhood.

She’s expecting $500 worth of plants, flowers and shrubs to arrive this weekend for her back yard and fears the burgeoning bunny boom town will quickly embark on a search-and-destroy mission.

“Sure, they’re cute,” Scorse said with a hint of laughter tinged with frustration. “But this isn’t a cute problem.”

She’s at wits’ end, unsure how to deal with her long-eared dilemma. Everywhere she turns she sees rabbits. While the exact number of bunnies is difficult to determine, there are at least 50 throughout the four-block area — probably more. And the population is growing, evidenced by a large number of baby bunnies.

According to several of the area’s residents, the colony of rabbits started a few years ago from a single breeding pair of pet Easter bunnies who were released into the wild — which is illegal and morally repugnant, says Duluth rabbit expert Ruth Lyon. No one is sure of the culprit’s identity.

Being rabbits, these furry mammals have done what they do best — procreate prolifically. Females are capable of producing a litter of up to a dozen offspring every 28-35 days.

The explosion of rabbits has some in the neighborhood calling for some kind of control.

But not everyone is anti-rabbit in this area of Park Point — Minnesota Avenue between the 1400 and 1800 blocks, with scattered bunny sightings as far away as the Aerial Lift Bridge.

While Scorse would like to see the rabbits eradicated, relocated or simply removed, Donella Kubiak says leave the cute little varmints alone.

They aren’t hurting anyone or anything, she says, and nature will eventually take its course.

Kubiak has about 20 rabbits living in her yard — where a large deck allows good cover for the animals. To her, the rabbit population is a wonderful addition to the landscape. Even her dog, Smokey, doesn’t seem to mind the rabbits, who have been known to invade his doghouse on occasion.

“They mow the lawn and fertilize it too,” Kubiak said of the rabbits. “I enjoy them. They’re wonderful. I don’t want anyone out here harassing them.”

Six rabbits roam in the back yard of Donella Kubiak’s house on Park Point on May 19, 1999. Kubiak says the rabbits don’t do any harm on her property and she loves to have them around. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

There are several separate warrens of rabbits in this area, but all seem to be from the same roots. Most of them are white with black spots or stripes, and a smaller number are brown and black.

Folks in the area seem split on the bounty of bunnies. Some go as far as feeding the rabbits, while there have been reports of others who shoot them — which is illegal within city limits.

George Flentke, who heads the Wisconsin chapter of the House Rabbit Society in Madison — an education and rescue group devoted to rabbits — called the Park Point infestation a tragedy, “a dump-and-breed situation.”

“It’s one of those situations we have a hard time dealing with,” he said. “They can do a good deal of damage. They can denude that area pretty quickly.”

Low-lying trees and bushes in the area are feeling the effects. Scorse points to bushes in her yard that have gone from about 18 inches tall to a fraction of that size.

While distressed that the domestic rabbits were dumped, creating this colony of semi-wild rabbits, Flentke is equally surprised they have managed to survive — and thrive.

“I’m shocked, more than shocked, that they made it through the winter there,” Flentke said, adding that when he heard domestic rabbits were booming in Duluth, Minnesota, he couldn’t imagine them surviving for long. “Domestic rabbits don’t usually do well in the wild. They usually die out.”

But Park Point is lacking in predators at the moment. A normally strong fox population is down and raptors — hawks, owls and eagles — are not prevalent, either.

Two rabbits huddle nose to nose in the woods between the 1400 and 1800 blocks of Minnesota Avenue on Park Point in May 1999. Rabbits can be seen in the area in groups or alone, but they seem to be just about everywhere. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Rich Staffon, the area wildlife manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said the rabbit epidemic isn’t a huge threat to the ecosystem of Park Point.

The area is isolated. And, Staffon says, domestic rabbits are genetically incapable of breeding with native species like the snowshoe hare and cottontail rabbit.

If the rabbits managed to cross the Aerial Lift Bridge and began establishing colonies downtown or on Duluth’s hillside, “then we might have to say it’s time to nip this in the bud,” Staffon said. “But I don’t see them as a big threat to this point.”

Staffon recommends those who don’t want rabbits eating their plants to construct enclosures to keep them out.

“It’s up to the individual,” he said. “Property owners can remove them. But I don’t recommend they release them somewhere else.”

Carrie Siegle, director of the Duluth Animal Shelter, said property owners on Park Point can bring any rabbits they capture to the shelter, but they would be destroyed. The shelter has neither the space nor the resources to handle a large number of rabbits.

Other options include live-trapping the rabbits and giving them to someone who raises the animals.

Staffon suspects it won’t be long before predators, especially airborne ones, discover the area is teeming with easy prey.

The mostly white rabbits tend to stand out in the brush. And these domestic-turned-wild bunnies, most likely descendants from European hares, are not exactly fast on their feet.

“Pretty quickly, I would guess, something in nature is going to discover this surplus of food,” Staffon said. “Sooner or later, they’ll move in and take the rabbits out.”

The sooner the better for Scorse: “I’m hoping someone can come out here and help us control this problem,” she said. “I don’t know what to do.”

—–

A year later, Scorse got her wish – a group called Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota came to Park Point to round up the animals:

June 24, 2000

Volunteers from Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota, a Twin Cities animal rescue group, try their luck at catching a rabbit with a volleyball net on June 23, 2000, in front of a house in the 1700 block of Minnesota Avenue on Park Point. This one got away. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

‘Wascally wabbits’ divide Park Point

Some residents cheer volunteers, others want furry creatures left alone

By Bob Linneman, News-Tribune staff writer

The rabbit roundup on Park Point got under way Friday with limited success, but the presence of the group — known as Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota — had residents of the Point taking sides.

The Park Point rabbit zone, from about 13th Avenue to 20th, was ground zero for these volunteers, most from the Twin Cities, trying to capture as many of the domesticated rabbits as they could. It’s thought that at least 200 rabbits roam the neighborhood.

As of Friday evening, the group had caught about a dozen rabbits. Another 30 were trapped and caged — prior to the group’s arrival — by Park Point residents helping in the rescue operation.

The roundup continues through the weekend.

Not everyone on Park Point was happy with the bunny catchers’ arrival….

… but some Park Pointers were overjoyed to have the rabbits removed. (Photos by Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Residents of the area were clearly divided. The group of volunteers, ranging in size from a half-dozen early Friday to about 15 later in the day, were met with signs of protest and welcome.

Two yards had clear “No hunting” signs posted, urging the rescuers to stay off their land. Two others had signs; one said, “Welcome Rabbit Roundup” and another “Bunnies here, please find and remove.”

“It’s been the extreme on both ends,” said volunteer Michelle Nephew of St. Paul, a member of the Rabbit House Society, a national advocacy group devoted to pet rabbits. “We’ve had some people drive by yelling at us, and others cheering us.”

There were also confrontations. Tim and Cindy Olson didn’t want any of the rabbits living in their yard to be removed.

At one point, the rabbit group skirted the Olsons’ property line while the family watched closely, making sure they didn’t cross onto their property. A few words were exchanged, but nothing got out of control.

“They’re terrorizing the rabbits,” Cindy Olson said. “They’re chasing them through people’s yards. The rabbits usually come right up to us, but now they’re shying away.”

Tools in the roundup included live traps, nets of various sizes and plastic fencing used to trap the animals.

The effort to capture the rabbits, neuter the males and hold an adoption Sunday has been sanctioned by the city of Duluth.

Administrative assistant Mark Winson, Mayor Gary Doty’s top aide, said the city is picking up the rescue group’s lodging costs and has rented a truck to transport the rabbits from the Point to a West Duluth warehouse.

Michelle Nephew of St. Paul and Christopher Ellian, 11, who lives on Park Point, bait a live trap for rabbits on June 23, 2000. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Winson estimates the city’s contribution at $300. He added that the group does not need a permit to capture and transport the rabbits within city limits.

The mayor’s office, Winson said, has been inundated with pleas for the city to take action on the rabbit issue.

Andrea Nye, a 17-year-old Jefferson High School student from Bloomington, is one of the leaders of the rescue group and coordinated the roundup.

She said she’s rescued rabbits for more than two years and ; raised them for 11. She- is committed to helping: solve the Park Point situation, which she learned about from a Minnesota Public Radio report.

Friday’s effort was difficult.: “We’ve had lots of confrontations, but that’s part of it,” she said, unfazed by those opposing the group’s presence.

Many enjoy the rabbits and would prefer they be left alone. Others, however, call the rabbits a nuisance, doing thousands of dollars in damage to gardens and shrubs.

There are three schools of thought: leave them alone, kill them or capture and adopt them out as pets. Rabbit Rescue of Minnesota prefers the third. Others expressed a different viewpoint.

“The rabbits would be much better served by re-introducing a few native red foxes to Park Point and adopting an ordinance outlawing the feeding (the rabbits),” said resident Gary Hopp, who said the rabbits have destroyed his gardens.

The roundup continues today. Sunday, at a warehouse on West Michigan Street just past 29th Avenue West, the group hopes to host rabbit adoptions. The event will be open to the public — signs will direct people to the warehouse.

—–

So whatever happened to all those rabbits on Park Point? News Tribune Editor Robin Washington tackled that topic in a column that ran in the paper on April 4, 2010.

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

4 thoughts on “Hare-raising times on Duluth’s Park Point

  1. I did a one semester exchange from the Univ of Nebraska to the Univ of Wisconsin, Superior back in 1999. I fell in love with the rabbits and even would take visiting family to see them all over the neighbor’s yards! Over a decade later I was pondering these rabbits and what ever happened to them- it was neat to read a story about them after all this time. Thank you!

  2. The buns outside our apartment and along Minnesota Avenue insured us at least one smile on even the worst of days. It was very sad watching their inevitable decline. Our family has included a Park Point Bun since we adopted/abducted him in 2006. He is white with a black racing stripe and named Harry after the escape artist he emulated. He has always had free run if the house and is box trained(ish). Harry is keeping that same smile on our face, just don’t leave any cords hanging about.

  3. They are clearly descended from domesticated (pet) rabbits, and should be treated humanely. Hopefully all the rabbits were spayed/neutered and adopted to loving homes.

    it disgusts me when people call them pests or vermin. They have been domesticated, and just like dogs or cats, are owed respect by us because we have bred them to be tolerant of humans, have bright colors, and generally be unable to survive in the wild. It’s surprising that this group seems to be able to thrive, most abandoned pet rabbits don’t survive very long in the wild.

  4. What happened to the captured rabbits?
    My son and daughter-in-law were on the rabbit rescue team on Park Point. They are both shown in the picture, along with my husband, trying to catch the wild rabbits. One particularly hard to catch rabbit (like the #1 terrorist in the world, that year before 9/11/) was promptly named “Osama bin Rabbit” and became the pet at the Montessori School of Duluth. She was fondly known to hundreds of students over the ten years that she lived a comfortable life in a cage with a large play area. Having had a much longer life than the average rabbit, she now rests among the bulbs that will soon bring us spring crocuses.

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