Conservation celebrity visits a home for New England’s only native rabbit

The national head of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Chief Dave White, visited an eastern Connecticut farm on July 14 in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rare New England cottontail.

The farm is owned by Tom McAvoy, a lifelong outdoorsman and the first partner for the New England cottontail under the new Working Lands for Wildlife program. The program, led by the NRCS and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is an innovative approach to work with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to restore and protect land for wildlife.

Service biologist Ted Kendziora talking with NRCS Chief Dave White and others at the farm. Photo courtesy of Tom McAvoy.

Service biologist Ted Kendziora talking with NRCS Chief Dave White and others at the farm. Photo courtesy of Tom McAvoy.

State biologists have monitored New England cottontails on Tom’s farm since 2008. Ted Kendziora, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, developed a plan to improve the young forest habitat that the cottontails depend on. The plan includes boosting shrubs on five fields and harvesting 8 acres of timber to open up part of the 18-acre woodland.

Tom believes the program has been very successful thus far and attributes that to the “very personalized level of communication and education efforts that have been done by members of three organizations.”

The young forest on his property will not only make the cottontails happy, but it will also benefit whitetail deer, turkey, warblers, black races, woodcock and other wildlife.

“It is my hope that this will be a legacy project,” he says. “Over time, my three sons and my grandchildren can continue the effort as they come to understand what we are doing and how their commitment throughout the generations to come could have such a positive impact.”

A cottontail on the McAvoy farm. Photo courtesy of Tom McAvoy.

A cottontail on the McAvoy farm. Photo courtesy of Tom McAvoy.

Tom’s contribution to cottontail conservation has gone even beyond habitat management—some of the cottontails from his farm were taken to the Roger Williams Park Zoo to take part in a program raising cottontails in captivity to release into new areas. Read a blog post on the captive program.

Read the rest of the story about Tom’s farm. A local paper also covered the event: Native rabbits find ‘fantastic site’ in Scotland.

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