Landowners on the East Coast brought about a major success today with their voluntary conservation efforts for the New England cottontail. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that foresters and farmers have helped prevent the need to list the New England cottontail under the Endangered Species Act.
This partnership is three-quarters of the way to their goal of 13,500 cottontails in healthy, young forest landscapes. To date, 4,400 acres have been restored on private lands through the voluntary removal of trees and invasive species, planting of native shrubs and brush pile creation. Like the lesser prairie-chicken, the New England cottontail is one of seven species under the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) umbrella initiative called Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW).
“The decision not to list the New England cottontail shows that wildlife and working lands cannot just coexist, but thrive, in harmony,” said Jason Weller, NRCS Chief. “USDA is proud of the private landowners who stepped forward to make proactive conservation improvements on their land, restoring critical habitat for this unique rabbit.”
Today’s announcement re-emphasizes the role of voluntary and proactive conservation for enacting positive change to benefit working lands and wildlife. This announcement follows a similar decision last April when voluntary measures precluded the need for the Service to list the genetically distinct population of sage grouse in the Bi-state region. The nation’s landowners—farmers, ranchers and forest managers—provide not only food and fiber for the world but also include a variety of environmental benefits, including habitat for wildlife. These people are our crucial partners in conservation.
The Service’s official “not warranted” for listing finding on the cottontail will be published in the Federal Register on Tuesday.