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For Immediate Release: 06/21/06

Imperiled New England cottontail rabbit finally to get its day in court

Lawsuit filed against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list rabbit as an endangered species

Washington, DC — The Animal Protection Institute (API), a national animal advocacy organization, along with David Wade, founder of the Endangered Small Animal Conservation Foundation, today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the New England Cottontail Rabbit on the federal endangered species list.

Despite its mandatory duty to determine within 12 months whether the species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the FWS has not issued a decision since the initial petition to list the New England cottontail rabbit was submitted by David Wade in 2000. The plaintiffs have been forced to seek this action due to FWS’s chronic delay in complying with the ESA and issuing a final ruling on the petition.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been aware of the decline of New England cottontail rabbits since 1988,” said Michelle Thew, Chief Executive Officer of API. “They must take action before this key species disappears.”

The New England cottontail rabbit is the only species of cottontail rabbit native to New England. Its population is in dramatic decline due to habitat fragmentation, fire suppression, and the introduction of the eastern cottontail (largely the result of efforts by sport hunting clubs to augment rabbit populations). It is estimated that fewer than 2,500 New England cottontail rabbits remain, a decline of approximately 70–90 percent since the 1980s.

Maine and New Hampshire are the only states to have taken proactive measures to protect the species. Maine recently listed the species on the state’s endangered species list, prohibited all hunting of the species, and is in the process of developing a statewide recovery plan. Other states, including New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, still allow hunting of the species.

“The New England cottontail rabbit is emblematic of an extinction crisis facing all grassland birds and mammals in the eastern United States,” said David Wade, founder of the Endangered Small Animal Conservation Foundation and member of the Small Carnivore Group of the World Conservation Union. “It is one of the most endangered and beloved symbols of this crisis.”

Plaintiffs API and David Wade are represented by the Environmental Law Clinical Partnership at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.

API is a national nonprofit animal advocacy organization working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation and public education. For more information, visit www.api4animals.org.

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Contact:
Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute, 916-447-3085 x205, press@api4animals.org

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