New England Cottontail Rabbit Habitat Needs Restoration to Avoid Extinction

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New England Cottontail Endangered

The New England cottontail’s habitat is disappearing and conservationists are trying to prevent the rabbit from becoming endangered.

More than 80 percent of their habitat disappeared over the past 50 years, according to the nonprofit Wildlife Management Institute.

Conservationists, scientists and private landowners are working together to restore the cottontail rabbit’s habitat, according to a release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

If the rabbit were listed under the Endangered Species Act, it would require a costly response from the government that could restrict land use and hunting, the Associated Press reported.

Conservationists are hoping to restore shrub lands across the Northeast and captive breeding efforts will help ensure the New England cottontail doesn’t become endangered, or even worse, extinct.

“We’re making headway, putting habitat on the ground in some really key places,” said Anthony Tur, an endangered species specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s encouraging.”

The rabbit is restricted to parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and southeastern New York. Land that was once used for agriculture has become mature forest causing the rabbit’s population to thin, reports NBC News.

New England cottontails need brush, shrubs, and densely growing young trees, habitats described by the general term young forest. In the past, natural factors created plenty of young forest. But today, because we don’t let wildfires burn unchecked or beaver dams flood and kill trees, and because many people oppose clearcut logging, we no longer have enough of this habitat for New England cottontails and the dozens of other wild animals that need it.

Ed Faison, an ecologist with Highstead, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving the natural landscape, notes that the landscape of Connecticut has changed greatly, the most recent of these transformations occurring with the demise of the farm in the early 20th century.

“Animal species increase and decline as the land changes,” he said. “The New England cottontail population grew as land was cleared for farms. Now, does it make sense to preserve this type of landscape at the expense of forests? I’m not sure. The Northeast was originally a forested region. If you knock down a forest, you will lose other species, so it’s a trade-off.”

There are 12 New England cottontail “focus areas” managed by the DEEP totaling about 35 square miles; each area has between 1,000 and 5,000 acres.

Repairing New England Cottontail Habitat

Spectra Energy employees worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to repair the New England Cottontail Habitat. Spectra Energy employees who worked on this project recently were honored by the company.

New England Cottontail Endangered

The New England Cottontail is a rabbit species that adapted and evolved to New England’s ecological processes and habitats. This species have become rarer throughout its range, which was historically found throughout southern New England but is now limited to only a handful of populations in the states of CT, MA, and NH.

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