Question: I live in an association complex in San Clemente. The cottontail rabbit population has exploded and the rabbits are doing a lot of damage to lawns and vegetation. The association said they can do nothing because the rabbits are protected. What can be legally done by the association or me? Can I take them by spear? Thank you. — Gary A., San Clemente
Answer: Because you are within city limits your best alternative will be to put up some type of exclusionary fencings to prevent further damage.
Associate Wildlife Biologist Randy Botta suggests that a fence of two-foot high chicken wire with the bottom buried a few inches in the soil should be sufficient to exclude rabbits from an area. Mesh size should be one inch or smaller.
To protect trees or landscape plants, construct a barrier around the plants in the form of a cylinder made of plastic tubing or ¼-inch wire hardware cloth that extends higher than a rabbit's reach and stands far enough away from the trunk such that rabbits cannot eat through the mesh. Mesh size from ½ to ¾ inch can be used but hardware cloth will best guarantee protection.
Taste and odor repellents may also be used but are most effective when dealing with small numbers of rabbits and at the first sign of damage.
These repellents usually have to be reapplied at regular intervals, especially following rains. In some cases, habitat manipulation to remove their living and hiding places may be effective but this may require official approvals and authorization from your association.
If you or your association decides all of these passive persuasions are not enough and more drastic measures are needed, a ruling by the Attorney General in 2006 now authorizes that cottontails and brush rabbits may be killed at any time if they are found to be damaging landscaping, ornamental plants, crops and/or gardens (FGC Section 4186). Box traps have been used successfully to capture cottontails, or you may want to hire an authorized trapper to catch and remove the animals. Firearms and other methods of take may be used only where local ordinances allow, so check with local authorities first before attempting to do so.
And finally, even if all of these methods fail, you still cannot take them by spear.
Carrie Wilson is a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.