Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

On September 15, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) published (pdf) its 12-month finding on a petition to list the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The Service determined that listing the species is not warranted.

The New England cottontail is the only rabbit native to New England and the area east of the Hudson River in New York.  It was first identified as a candidate species in 2006, when the Service published a finding that listing the New England cottontail as threatened or endangered was warranted, but precluded.  The Service has conducted annual status reviews and reaffirmed the 2006 finding.

According to the Service (pdf) removal of the New England cottontail from the list of candidate species is the result of a public-private partnership between foresters, farmers, birdwatchers, biologists, hunters, and other conservationists.  Specifically, in 2008, state and Service biologists began organizing a conservation effort for the species.  That effort included the development of a range-wide, science-based conservation strategy that set forth targeted ambitious, but achievable, goals.  As a result of these conservation efforts, the species recovery is three-quarters of the way towards the goal of 13,500 New England cottontails in healthy, young forest landscapes by 2030.

In addition to the conservation strategy, voluntary restoration efforts have played a critical role in the recovery of the species.  In the past three years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has worked with owners and managers of private lands to restore more than 4,400 acres of habitat by removing trees and invasive species, planting native shrubs, and creating brush piles.