In areas across southern New Hampshire, efforts are underway to conserve the natural habitat of the region’s only native rabbit, the New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis).
Our agency, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and private groups are working together to restore the young forest and shrubland habitat that these rare rabbits depend on. [What’s young forest? Find out here.]
The need for young forests has been overshadowed in the push to allow fields and woods to mature into old growth forest composed of large trees that offer little protection for this rabbit against predators. As young forest and shrubland disappeared from much of the Northeast’s landscape, the population of New England cottontails dropped.
|Check out other stories of endangered plant and animal conservation in the Northeast – We’ve shared them throughout the year!|
With the rabbits occupying less than a fifth of their historic range, their decline led to a decision by the Service in 2006 to list the cottontail as a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act. As the overall population dwindled, the remaining cottontails became isolated in pockets of suitable habitat—making restoration even more difficult. Expanding and reconnecting these fragmented populations is crucial to the conservation of species.
In places like LaRoche Brook Tract and Foss Farm in Strafford County, conservationists are working to connect suitable patches of New England cottontail by creating long highways of suitable cover, through which the rabbits can move to find suitable food and shelter.
Here’s a series of photos illustrating young forest restoration at one site in New Hampshire. Click on the top photo to scroll through the series with captions and larger images.
To restore young forest, conservationists harvest trees with trunks exceeding two inches in diameter during the winter time, leaving the root systems intact. In the spring, these roots sprout new trees, and conservationists seed with native shrubs and create brushpiles to shelter wildlife. Invasive plant species are also removed to clear the way for native plants that evolved alongside New England cottontails. …Keep reading to find out how it worked!