At Brave Boat Harbor and Upper Wells, trees had grown too mature to provide habitat for cottontails. Their leafy crowns cut off sunlight, causing ground-covering food plants to die off. Leaving plenty of other middle-aged forest, trees were harvested on less than 5 percent of the forest as part of an effort to manage young forest across 25 acres. The area is now growing into a dense thicket and becoming great habitat for cottontails and other wildlife, such as gray catbird, a type of shrubland bird. Credit: USFWS
Saws whined and trees thumped the ground as loggers harvested oaks and pines.
Using shovels, digging bars, and plenty of elbow grease, volunteers planted native shrubs in old fields of the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.
These efforts are creating much-needed young forest homes in the Pine Tree State for the rare New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) and a host of other wild creatures, from tiny flycatchers to furtive bobcats.
The New England cottontail once thrived in the brushy thickets along rivers and coastlines, and was also abundant as abandoned farms grew into young forest in the early to mid-20th century. Then, increased development and reforestation caused the rabbit’s population to plummet as the thick habitat it needed became increasingly rare. Now, the New England cottontail is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and is already protected as endangered by the State of Maine.
New England cottontails aren’t easy to photograph. This photo was taken just after the rabbit was released by biologists. It was raised in captivity as part of our program to conserve the species. Credit: USFWS
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, with support from the Defenders of Wildlife Volunteer Corps and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, manages almost 100 acres (40 hectares) of habitat for the rabbit. Work takes place in the Brave Boat Harbor Division and Upper Wells Division in York County, as well as in the Spurwink River Division in Cumberland County.
Planting these native shrubs helps create habitat for the New England cottontail, which uses thickets, young forest and shrubland for its home. These young forests are generally less than 25 years old. Credit: USFWS
At Brave Boat Harbor and Upper Wells, trees had grown too mature to provide suitable habitat for the cottontail—their leafy crowns cut off sunlight, causing ground-covering food plants to die off. Leaving plenty of other middle-aged forest, trees were harvested on less than five percent of the forest as part of an effort to manage young forest across 25 acres (10 ha). The area is now growing into a dense thicket, which is ideal habitat for the cottontail which needs places to hide from and escape predatory birds.
“Most people don’t tolerate natural processes that historically created shrubland, like fire and beaver-created floods,” says Kelly Boland, Maine’s New England cottontail restoration coordinator. “If we don’t replace these natural processes, we will lose those critters that need shrublands to live, including the New England cottontail.”
To add habitat next to the cleared trees, volunteers planted native shrubs including juniper, staghorn sumac, Virginia rose, and three kinds of dogwood. …Keep reading this story!