Lawsuit against U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed after “warranted but precluded” finding
Washington, DC — The Animal Protection Institute (API), a national animal advocacy organization, along with David Wade, founder of the Endangered Small Animal Conservation Foundation, have dismissed a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the New England cottontail rabbit on the federal endangered species list.
API and Wade dismissed the lawsuit upon FWS’s recent determination that the original petition to list the animal under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), filed by Wade in 2000, presented substantial scientific information indicating that listing the cottontail as endangered is warranted, but that immediate action is precluded by the agency’s chronic backlog of other species deserving of ESA protection. FWS assigned the cottontail a listing number priority of 2, the highest possible priority number, and has stated it will consider emergency listing of the species.
“What this means is that FWS has decided the cottontail needs the protection of the ESA to survive,” says Nicole Paquette, API’s Director of Legal and Government Affairs. “We hope that FWS will request funding from Congress to promptly list the rabbit, and that this decision will spur state-level conservation efforts.”
API and Mr. Wade originally filed the lawsuit in June 2006 after years of illegal delay by FWS in complying with the petition review deadlines in the ESA. The original petition for listing was submitted in 2000. It is the agency’s mandatory duty to determine within 12 months of receiving a substantial petition to determine whether or not the species warrants ESA protection.
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 Mr. Wade. “It is one of the most endangered and beloved symbols of this crisis. Finally, government pandering to hunters has been redirected to reflect the wants and needs of the vast majority of Americans.”
Plaintiffs API and Wade are represented by the Environmental Law Clinical Partnership at the University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.
API is a national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to end animal cruelty and exploitation through legislation, litigation and public education. For more information, visit www.api4animals.org.
Zibby Wilder, Animal Protection Institute, 916-447-3085 x205