Natural and Human-Created Disturbances Make Rabbit Habitat
New England cottontails live in several different types of habitat in the Bay State. In southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, they inhabit pitch pine-scrub oak woodlands growing on the dry, sandy soils of that region. In southwestern Massachusetts, they live in young forest in upland areas and in wetlands with dense shrubs.
Farmington River Wildlife Management Area straddles the border between the southwestern Massachusetts towns of Otis and Becket. It’s the largest landholding owned and managed by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife) in the Southern Berkshire Focus Area for New England cottontail restoration.
Light-loving trees and shrubs, a suite of songbirds, ruffed grouse, deer, black bears – and, conservationists hope, eventually New England cottontails – should all benefit from timber harvests begun in 2014 on Monterey Preservation Land Trust’s 383-acre Mount Hunger property in Berkshire County, western Massachusetts.
Hunting Clubs, Private Landowners Give Cottontails a Helping Hand
Two hunting clubs, several private landowners, and a water authority are making young forest habitat that will help New England cottontails and other wildlife move more freely across the landscape in the Berkshires and increase their overall numbers in these largely wooded uplands of southwestern Massachusetts.
Patience Pays When Making a Home for Cottontails and Other Wildlife
"On a project like this one, patience is key," said Doug Bruce, stewardship manager for the Berskshire Natural Resources Council. Bruce stood in a brand new 25-acre habitat project on BNRC’s 550-acre Clam River Reserve. "Sometimes you need to think about things on a natural time scale rather than a human time scale," he added.
“This timber harvest will create new habitat for wildlife, including New England cottontails,” said Ken Smith on a gray November afternoon as he looked over a 40-acre cut on the Becket Land Trust’s Historic Quarry and Forest property. “At the same time, it will also help rejuvenate a forest stand that had been harmed by poor timber-cutting practices in the past.”
The goal: Restore a neglected pine barrens on Upper Cape Cod to a productive ecosystem where New England cottontails, box turtles, buckmoths, whip-poor-wills, and dozens of other rare animals and plants can thrive.
"Scrub oak is a very resilient plant," says John Kelly, a biologist working for the U.S. Army at Camp Edwards, a 14,433-acre National Guard training center. Fifty miles southeast of Boston, the camp represents the largest chunk of undeveloped land on upper Cape Cod. It includes an exceptionally valuable habitat for New England cottontails: 2,200 acres of scrub oak, shrubland, and forest known as the Impact Area, an artillery practice zone from World War II until 1996.