New York

Statewide Young Forest Initiative to Help Cottontails, Other Wildlife

In New York, the New England cottontail occurs east of the Hudson River in areas of young forest and shrubland in parts of Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam, and Westchester counties. (Although once found in Rensselaer County, the species has not been detected there since the 1950s.)

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

This native cottontail has experienced population declines in the five New England states where it also lives, and New York is no exception. Currently New York lists the New England cottontail as both a Species of Special Concern and a high-priority Species of Greatest Conservation Need.
New York NEC Focus Areas
Since 2002, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has worked with neighboring states and with in-state partners to learn more about the status, distribution, and biology of the cottontail and to take steps to help this beleaguered rabbit. Central to this effort has been a continuing study of the species’ distribution and abundance in New York, as well as the distribution and abundance of the non-native eastern cottontail, a different type of rabbit that was introduced to the region many years ago and has spread widely. Virtually all sites in New York that have New England cottontails today also have eastern cottontails, while many habitat sites have eastern cottontails only.

Surveys done between 2002 and 2004 provided a good initial picture of the distribution of New England cottontails in the Hudson Valley, while surveys begun in earnest in 2009 and continuing today are helping give biologists a more complete picture. Research by graduate students with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry is focusing on the biology of both the New England cottontail and the eastern cottontail in areas where the two rabbits occur together, as well as how the two species may interact.

Two major factors behind the New England cottontail’s decline are a loss of young forest habitat to development, and forest maturation. (When forests mature and the crowns of trees link together, less sunlight makes it to the ground, and the low-level vegetation that cottontails depend on for feeding and hiding from predators starts to dwindle.) To help the New England cottontail, NYSDEC and its conservation partners have begun creating new areas of young forest and shrub-dominated habitats within the focus areas shown on the accompanying map. New York also has significant acreages of naturally self-sustaining cottontail habitat in the form of scrub-shrub wetlands (many of which receive regulatory protection) and mountain laurel and blueberry thickets.

Dense young forest

A new Young Forest Initiative will create young forest on Wildlife Management Areas statewide. Some of that habitat will be made in New England cottontail focus areas./C. Fergus

Additionally, in 2015 NYSDEC launched an ambitious statewide Young Forest Initiative aimed at returning at least 10 percent of the forested areas of select state wildlife management areas (WMAs) to a younger growth stage. Over the next ten years, this initiative will create more than 10,000 acres of young forest for target species including the New England cottontail, American woodcock, golden-winged warbler, eastern whip-poor-will, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer. Conservation planners, biologists, foresters, and forestry technicians will work together to set up and oversee commercial timber harvests and non-commercial forest management projects on more than 90 WMAs across the state. Four of those WMAs – Cranberry Mountain, Great Swamp, Baxtertown Woods, and Bog Brook Unique Area – are in New England cottontail focus areas. Cranberry Mountain WMA already has an active project underway to make habitat for cottontails, and new habitat on the other three areas should also help the rabbits in the near future.

The NYSDEC Young Forest Initiative supports access to and wildlife-related recreation on WMAs by encouraging people to visit, understand, and appreciate young forest habitat and wildlife. Select WMAs will serve as habitat demonstration areas where NYSDEC staff will lead workshops and guide walks. The department hopes that those areas will inspire other forest landowners to create young forest on their own properties, potentially with the assistance of cost-share programs such as those offered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.