Celebrating Earth Day with a rare rabbit

Today you're hearing from Meagan Racey (left), public affairs specialist for the Northeast Region. She's standing with two Bunny Hoppers from the Stonyfield 5k! Credit: USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Meagan Racey (left), public affairs specialist for the Northeast Region. She’s standing with two Bunny Hoppers from the Stonyfield 5k! Credit: USFWS

It doesn’t have to be Halloween to dress up as a rabbit. We proved it Saturday.

More than a hundred kids filled the parking lot in front of Stonyfield Yogurt Works, decked out with faces painted like rabbits and cotton tails stuck to the backs of their shirts. Then, in perfect order (kidding), they proceeded to run the series of Bunny Hop races, a youth version of the Stonyfield 5k in Londonderry, N.H.

Two Bunny Hoppers show off their cotton tails! Credit: USFWS

Two Bunny Hoppers show off their cotton tails! Credit: USFWS

This was all in the name of the rare New England cottontail, New England’s only native rabbit. As few as three dozen New England cottontails may remain in New Hampshire. Almost a third of them can be found around Stonyfield, thanks to efforts to restore the area’s young forest and shrubland habitat desperately needed by this rabbit.

We were at the Stonyfield 5k and Earth Day fair to tell the rabbit’s story – a close brush with extinction – and the team out to save it. We wanted runners and fair-goers to know that the rabbit’s decline is closely linked with the declining amount of young forest and shrubland in New England – and that we can bring back that balance of mature and young forest. We also emphasized that dozens upon dozens of other animals need young forest, too, like eastern towhees and chestnut-sided warblers (birds).

Not to mention, a portion of the funds from the 5k and Earth Day fair will go to the New Hampshire Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program for New England cottontail conservation efforts!

We painted rabbit faces, talked with landowners about the rabbit and its habitat, traded recyclables for native shrub seedlings, and shared Stonyfield’s project as an example of the work underway to make sure that our only native rabbit is around for future generations.

It was a rewarding way to spend my Saturday – and to honor Earth Day. I’ll admit, I wore my rabbit ears all the way back home to Massachusetts.

Big thanks to the New Hampshire State Forest Nursery, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, my U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service colleagues, the broader New England cottontail partnership and Stonyfield Yogurt!

See more photos on the New England cottontail Flickr.

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