The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided that listing the New England cottontail is not warranted, according to a 12-month finding that went on Public Inspection with the Federal Register today. It will be officially published Sept. 15.
The 12-month finding made its appearance the same day that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and New Hampshire Senator
Gov. Jeanne Shaheen announced a conservation partnership in Dover, N.H., to protect the rabbit.
In essence, range-wide conservation efforts aimed at protecting thousands of acres of habitat are the basis for the decision not to list.
“We can now say that future generations of Americans will know the cottontail,” Jewell told the Boston Globe before traveling to New Hampshire to release cottontails raised in captivity onto private land. “This is a great Endangered Species Act success story.”
"Approximately 10,500 New England cottontails now live in a priority area, which brings the recovery effort three-quarters of the way towards the goal of 13,500 cottontails in healthy, young forest landscapes by 2030. Habitat projects are also producing increased numbers of cottontails," according to a joint press release.
But the release also states that "today, this once-common native species survives in five isolated populations across Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island."
“Our work is not finished,” FWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber said. “We and our partners are committed to seeing this initiative through. We’re still seeking help from landowners willing to make and maintain young forest and shrubland habitat. In most places, this type of habitat will depend on our careful and ongoing management.”
In its evaluation of conservation efforts, FWS concluded "there is a high level of certainty that the parties [to the conservation effort] will obtain the required amount of voluntary participation needed to provide for the habitat needs of the New England cottontail."
Those parties are:
- Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW)
- New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFGD)
- Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MDFW)
- Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)
- Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP)
- New York Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC)
- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
- Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
The website for the conservation partnership is http://newenglandcottontail.org/
NRCS status report
FWS cottontail page
A petition to list the rabbit was filed in 2000 by Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Conservation Action Project, Endangered Small Animals Conservation Fund and Defenders of Wildlife. The service issued a positive 90-day finding on June 30, 2004, after receiving two notices of intent to sue from Defenders.
On Sept. 12, 2006, FWS said listing the cottontail was warranted, but precluded by higher-priority listing actions.
The cottontail is also known as the gray rabbit, brush rabbit, wood hare, or cooney.