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New England Cottontail spared from Endangered Species List thanks to science-based collaboration

LCC Science Delivery Coordinator Steve Fuller had a key role in the development of a coordinated science-based conservation strategy that has made it possible to keep New England Cottontail from needing protection under the Endangered Species Act, and serves as a model for protecting other species on the brink.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell's announcement in September that the New England Cottontail has been saved from needing protection under the Endangered Species List is more than just a victory for New England's only native rabbit. It's also a victory for the kind of collaborative science-based conservation made possible when partners work together across boundaries.

Thanks to the strategic planning and on-the-ground efforts initiated by a public-private partnership of foresters, farmers, birdwatchers, biologists, hunters, and other conservationists, a growing number of New England cottontails now inhabit areas deemed priority areas for the long-term success of the species. 

At an event held on Friday, September 11th, to celebrate this conservation success, many partners were recognized for their contributions to the effort. Among them North Atlantic LCC's Science Deliver Coordinator Steve Fuller, who was recognized for his contributions to the New England Cottontail Initiative: developing the science, drafting the strategy, and leading implementation and adaptive management as coordinator of the state and federal New England Cottontail Technical Committee. Fuller also provided guidance to the Endangered Species program on applications of the best available science to the recent listing decision.  

The science has proven critical to the success of this effort by providing a common approach for assessments and a shared framework for implementing conservation measures on the ground. The cottontail work was initiated as part of the development of State Wildlife Action Plans before the native rabbit was even listed as a candidate for the Endangered Species List. 

"The science behind cottontails made them a great model for pre-empting listing," explained John Kanter of New Hampshire Fish and Game. "We need to replicate that model for many species, and the good news is that this is happening right now through the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas project."

A collaboration between North Atlantic LCC partners, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Northeast states, the Regional Conservation Opportunity Areas (RCOAs) project was established in response to the need to identify priority areas for Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need across the Northeast. The team of experts spearheading the effort are focusing on mapping habitats for key species, and finding areas that offer multiple benefits. Much like the New England Cottontail effort, this project demonstrates what can happen when states, federal agencies, and other partners collaborate to protect species that are threatened across a broad geographic area.  

"There isn't time to get hung up on jurisdiction; we need to get moving and target locations that represent the best opportunities for the many other species that like cottontail that are sliding toward a future listing," said Fuller. "The RCOA project is an effort to identify those species, and to figure out what they need before it's too late." 

Read the full news release on the New England Cottontail announcement from the Department of the Interior. 

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