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Rare Southwestern Jackrabbit Hops Toward Federal Protection

Habitat Destruction & Inadequate Protections Cited as Leading Threats

SANTA FE, N.M. - In response to a petition and lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) announced today that the white-sided jackrabbit deserves consideration for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. The agency will now conduct a full status review to decide whether the species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act.

The white-sided jackrabbit (Lepus callotis) occurs in New Mexico and Mexico. The Service acknowledged that this rare hare has disappeared from parts of its range in the U.S., and its numbers have sharply declined in past decades, with the most recent estimates for the U.S. at 150 or fewer jackrabbits. According to the Service, the causes of decline are habitat loss due to livestock grazing, drought, and fire suppression; overhunting in Mexico; and a lack of legal protections. The federal government first recognized the jackrabbit as likely deserving legal protection in 1982, 27 years ago.

“Faced with an onslaught of threats, this rare jackrabbit deserves federal protection. The jackrabbit has been waiting to board the nation’s legal ark - the Endangered Species Act list - for nearly three decades. It is time to usher this needy passenger on board,” stated Dr. Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

While the Service did not determine climate change to be a threat to the jackrabbit, the agency pointed to drought as an impact to its desert grassland habitat, and stated that it would examine climate change impacts in its full status review. Stated Rosmarino, “Climate change impacts affect us all - and we should use every tool in the toolbox to fight the climate crisis, including the Endangered Species Act.”

The white-sided jackrabbit is a part of WildEarth Guardians’ “Western Ark” project launched last October to call attention to the wide variety of endangered animals and plants not yet protected under the Endangered Species Act and to gain federal protection for those species. Another animal included in the Western Ark project is the Sonoran desert tortoise, for which the Service has not yet issued a petition finding. The tortoise’s numbers have also been cut in half in recent decades. In a twist on the proverbial race between the tortoise and the hare, today’s finding puts the hare ahead of the tortoise in a race to avoid extinction.

Because the jackrabbit petition finding is positive, the Service is now required to undertake a review of the status of the species. If, as a result of that status review, the jackrabbit is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it would be protected from “take” (including killing and harassment) of individuals, and the Service would have to develop a recovery plan to map out the steps that must be taken to reverse its population declines. The Service would also have to identify critical habitat required by the jackrabbit so that it can be protected to aid the conservation and recovery of the species.

In addition to the jackrabbit and tortoise, other species WildEarth Guardians petitioned in October were: six freshwater mussels occurring in the southeastern U.S.; Sprague’s pipit, a bird that ranges across the Great Plains and southwest; New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, which exists in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, but is gone from 74% of the places it historically occurred; Chihuahua scurfpea, a southwestern plant with two current populations containing a total of 300 individuals; Wright’s marsh thistle, which now occurs only in New Mexico and whose wetland habitat is threatened by water diversion and agriculture; and Jemez Mountains salamander, restricted to the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico and threatened by climate change. All of the petitions are in-depth and detailed.

To obtain today’s finding, the jackrabbit petition, photos, and other information, contact Dr. Nicole Rosmarino at nrosmarino@wildearthguardians.org or 505-699-7404.

View the 90-day finding here.


 

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