New England Cottontail and Early Successional Habitat Project

Photo: Mike Marchand/NHFG

NEC Project

Project Goal: To gain a better understanding of the distribution of New England cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis) in NH, identify areas where land management would increase suitable habitat, and restore New England Cottontail population numbers through relocation.

Timeline: Surveys in NH and other states have been showing a decline in the distribution of the New England cottontail throughout its range. The most significant causes of the species decline have been loss of habitat and fragmentation of early successional shrubland (thicket) habitat. The hunting season for New England cottontails was closed in 2004 and the species was listed as endangered in New Hampshire in 2008. In 2008 biologists from NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program began surveying areas that may provide suitable habitat that could support New England cottontails. Management activities to provide suitable habitat areas and protect the remaining populations of New England cottontails were implemented beginning in 2010.

Location: Southeastern New Hampshire

Current work: To help bring back these rare rabbits, the Nongame Program is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other partners to create more of the shrubland habitat that New England cottontails need for food and shelter. This work is occurring in several areas in southern and central New Hampshire. Biologists are also providing supplemental food for the rabbits during the winter months and are actively monitoring areas where wild New England cottontails are known to still occur.

Captive-breeding: Another exciting part of the project is the Nongame Program's partnership with the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island, where nine New England cottontails were born in a captive-breeding facility in 2012. These rabbits were transported in the fall to a special outdoor enclosure in Newington, N.H., at the Service’s Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where they spent the winter while transitioning to life in the wild.

Description: Restoration efforts are focused on developing networks of early successional habitat in landscapes currently occupied by New England cottontails by protecting key habitat, restoring degraded habitat and creating new habitat. This will increase the total habitat available to support larger and healthier populations of the species.

Participation of private landowners in the area that the species persists is required to achieve this goal. NHFG has partnered with Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal organization, and the UNH Cooperative extension to guide interested landowners and provide funding to manage their land to promote early successional habitat when available.

Partners:
UNH Cooperative Extension
Department of Resources and Economic Development: Natural Heritage Bureau
US Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Services
University of New Hampshire
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

newenglandcottontail.org - A comprehensive guide to the natural history of New England cottontails, their habitat needs, and projects to restore the rabbits and their habitat.

Funding: Private donations have provided the foundation for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program since its inception in 1988. Contributions support the on-the-ground work and also enable the Nongame Program to qualify for additional funding through grants from both the State of New Hampshire and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Donations made to the Nongame Program are matched dollar-for-dollar by the State of New Hampshire up to $50,000 annually. Please help keep this project going by donating to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. (Click here to donate).

The Nongame Program also receives a portion of proceeds from the sale of the NH Conservation License plate (moose plate) each year. To learn more please visit the NH Moose Plate Program online at www.mooseplate.com.

Volunteering: If you are interested in learning more about helping in the recovery efforts of New England Cottontails, send an email describing your volunteer interest to Emma Carcagno, Wildlife Program Assistant, UNH Cooperative Extension: emma.carcagno@unh.edu.

Private landowners are encouraged to work with Federal and State agencies through voluntary conservation agreements that benefit both candidate or listed species and the needs of the landowner. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances Program is designed to remove the disincentives associated with conservation of imperiled wildlife on private lands. This link provides examples of how those efforts have been applied in other parts of the country (http://www.fws.gov/endangered/candidates/tools.html). This video also covers the subject (http://www.fws.gov/endangered/video/candidate-video.html).

A Landowner's Guide to New England Cottontail Habitat -- Check out this publication to learn how landowners can help New England cottontail rabbits through management practices. The "Landowner's Guide" discusses some options and provides landowners with information about programs that may assist them. Click here to read or download.

Outcomes: In the winter of 2007-2008, surveys of historic sites found a decline in species population and potential habitat which prompted biologists to list the New England Cottontail as State Endangered in October 2008.

More Information:

 


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