US Fish & Wildlife Service
Date of this Version
Fuller, S. and A. Tur. 2012. Conservation Strategy for the New England Cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis). 148 pages.
The New England cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus transitionalis), abbreviated as NEC, is the only rabbit native to the northeastern United States from the Hudson River Valley of New York eastward. The NEC is currently threatened by the loss of its habitat through development and forest succession. It may also be imperiled by encroachment into its range by the introduced eastern cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus), which may compete with NEC and seems more able to use diverse and fragmented habitats and avoid predators.
Biologists do not believe that NEC interbreed with the eastern cottontail; NEC and eastern cottontail hybrids, if born, apparently do not survive. Taxonomists have recognized the New England cottontail as a separate species since the 1990s, when it was split off from the Appalachian cottontail (Sylvilagus obscurus) on the basis of chromosomal differences, morphology, and geographic separation.
In 2006 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded to conservationists concerned that the population of NEC was declining. The Service reviewed the status of the species and the factors threatening it, and designated NEC as a “candidate” for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
This Conservation Strategy sets forth actions to address threats to NEC and show how conservation partners are implementing those actions to ensure the presence of NEC into the future as well as precluding the need to place the species on the Endangered Species List.
To conserve NEC, the Fish and Wildlife Service set a regional habitat restoration goal of 27,000 acres to support 13,500 rabbits. The six states where NEC are currently found set combined habitat restoration goals totaling 42,440 acres to support 21,650 rabbits. And the NEC Technical Committee, a group of wildlife biologists from all of the states in the species’ range, set a goal of 51,655 acres of habitat and 28,100 rabbits. (At each level, the sum of goals exceeds the preceding level to account for localized uncertainties in the feasibility of conserving the species.)