New Hampshire

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. New Hampshire placed the New England cottontail on the state endangered species list in 2008 to raise awareness of the rabbit’s vulnerability and help protect the remaining population.

The University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension explains the cottontail's situation on its website.

To learn about specific habitat demonstration areas and projects, go back to the dropdown for New Hampshire under the Success Stories menu item and scroll down below the state summary.

Merrimack Focus Area, NH
Seacoast Focus Area
As specified in the New England Cottontail Conservation Strategy, New Hampshire has two New England cottontail focus areas, Merrimack Valley and Seacoast, both in the southeastern part of the state. Conservationists are creating, restoring, and expanding habitat in those areas, on both public and private land, to make sure the New England cottontail thrives. Funding to advance those efforts comes from a variety of sources, including the state’s Moose Conservation License Plate, the USDA Natural Resources Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Since 2008, conservationists have carried out habitat management activities on more than 1,000 acres, with more than 45 partners from government agencies, local municipalities, and the private sector cooperating on projects. The first management project implemented on private land – at Stonyfield Yogurt near Londonderry – has proven a great success, with the number of rabbits on the site increasing from only one or two individuals in 2008 to as many as 10 to 12 as of 2015.

In 2013, biologists released the first rabbits produced by the captive breeding program developed at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island. The rabbits were set free in prime habitat on Bellamy River Wildlife Management Area in Strafford County. By the end of 2015, more than 40 rabbits will have been released at different sites in New Hampshire. Biologists have documented successful reproduction in the wild by captive-reared individuals.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to build a pen at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge to serve as a “hardening” area for rabbits coming out of the zoo-based captive-breeding effort. During their stay at the pen, which protects against predators, the rabbits get used to an outdoor environment, learning to forage for food and hide in natural cover.

Biologists at Great Bay NWR

Biologists Heidi Holman, left, and Nancy Pau examine cover in a hardening pen for captive-bred New England cottontails at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

In 2015, observers documented successful breeding of rabbits in the pen, providing additional individuals for release into the wild. Conservationists plan to enlarge these facilities to help the regional captive breeding program expand, further ensuring that New England cottontails will be able to successfully colonize new habitat being created for the species, both in New Hampshire and elsewhere in the rabbit’s six-state range.

On September 11, 2015, at a private-lands habitat project in southern New Hampshire, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell made the important announcment that the New England cottontail does not need to be placed on the federal Endangered Species List because its numbers are rising and its habitat is increasing thanks to “epic collaboration” among conservation partners. Secretary Jewell described the success of the New England Cottontail Regional Initiative as “an incredible model for conservation that we will be talking about across the country.”

The announcement took place on land owned by Rick and Donna Ambrose, who recently conducted a habitat-creation project with funding from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Ambrose property is in the Seacoast New England Cottontail Focus Area. Secretary Jewell joined Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Fish and Game biologist Heidi Holman in releasing a pair of cottontails into a patch of thick, tangled young forest habitat.

As of 2015, the following entities had signed on as cooperators in restoring the New England cottontail in New Hampshire:

Towns: Dover, Durham, Barrington, Rollinsford, Londonderry, Litchfield. Pelham

Conservation Organizations: Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Audubon New Hampshire, Strafford Rivers Conservancy, Southeast Land Trust of New Hampshire

Businesses: Stonyfield Yogurt

Government: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, County Conservation Districts (Hillsborough, Merrimack, and Strafford), Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, University of New Hampshire

Private Landowners: More than 30 participants making habitat within New England cottontail focus areas