New Hampshire Conservationists Cooperate to Help Cottontails
New England cottontail numbers have fallen for several decades in New Hampshire. The presence of the introduced eastern cottontail – very difficult to distinguish from the New England cottontail – has masked the plight of the state’s native rabbit.
Says Pelham Conservation Commission member Chris McCarron, "We have lots of forest and field areas in southern New Hampshire, but the 'in-between' early successional habitat has dwindled – and along with it, the wildlife that need that kind of habitat. Through the logging that's taken place at Gumpas Pond Conservation Area, we hope to help New England cottontails as well as many birds that also need young, regrowing forest habitat."
Sometimes a chunk of land can look pretty tattered, its contours broken by gravel mining, its topsoil gone, its natural vegetation under siege by invasive shrubs – not very inviting to wildlife. That's how this 22-acre parcel appeared, before the Town of Lee Conservation Commission teamed up with wildlife specialists to do a complete make-over on the property.
When wild creatures become rare, local populations get separated from one another, making it ever more difficult for individuals to find mates and occupy new habitat once it becomes available. In the fragmented landscape of southern New Hampshire, the state Fish and Game Department is working with the University of New Hampshire to create pockets of cottontail habitat plus habitat corridors between those pockets so that rabbit populations can connect.
Good Shrubs In, Bad Shrubs Out, Rabbits on the Rise
Even small projects can improve and link young forest and shrubland while, at the same time, showcasing cooperation between conservation partners – in this case, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (known as the Forest Society) and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, on whose side-by-side properties managers are creating great bunny habitat.
Machines clanking through fields, planting shrub seeds. Log skidders piling newly cut trees at a landing. Industrial-strength mowers chopping down old, past-their-prime shrubs so they’ll grow back as thick cover. Conservationists are using all of these techniques and more to turn Bellamy River WMA into a habitat showcase while boosting the local cottontail population.