Stonyfield Yogurt, Rockingham County

Keeping a "Stronghold" Strong

It was a crisp, clear day in February when a band of biologists and interested onlookers went looking for cottontail sign in a thicket at Stonyfield Yogurt's Londonderry, New Hampshire, plant.

"Sign" consisted of rabbit pellets and tracks in the snow.

Calls rang out: “I just found a run!” (The “run” was a path laid down by New England cottontails.) "Got some pellets over here!" (The pellets were the small, brown droppings left by the rabbits.)

Biologists looks for New England cottontail sign

Biologist Anthony Tur looks for signs of New England cottontails./C. Fergus

Those telltale signs of cottontail occupation pleased New Hampshire Fish and Game biologist Heidi Holman, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species biologist Anthony Tur, and Jenna Bourne, Stonyfield's sustainability innovation project coordinator.

The searchers picked their way through clumps of head-high young trees – alders, aspens, birch, and red maples – while avoiding tangles of multiflora rose. The 11-acre habitat patch wrapped around two sides of the Stonyfield plant in an industrial park on the edge of Manchester Airport. Airplanes came roaring in for landings, and trucks beeped as they backed up at other light-industry operations nearby.

The small, regrowing trees were about five years old. A timber harvest on 6 acres, plus more chainsaw work on an adjoining 5 acres, had renewed the cover for cottontails by removing older trees so that younger ones could spring up from the old trees’ root systems and from seeds. These efforts created the kind of young forest that’s rare these days – yet is required by New England cottontails, eastern towhees, chestnut-sided warblers, and literally dozens of other kinds of wildlife, many of which will quickly move into and use such habitat even when it’s interwoven with humans’ development.

Of the improved habitat, 5 acres belong to Stonyfield; the other 6 are owned by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

Wading through rabbit habitat at Stonyfield Yogurt

Biologists and Stonyfield employees wade through the cover at the yogurt company's Londonderry, N.H., plant./C. Fergus

At a meeting held before the group ventured into the thicket, biologist Tur offered up the jaw-dropping fact that statewide in New Hampshire as few as three dozen New England cottontails may remain. Since up to a dozen rabbits probably live on the Stonyfield site, the locale represents an extremely important stronghold for the species.

Says Holman, “Stonyfield was the first private landowner in New Hampshire to manage habitat specifically for New England cottontails. Their plant is in an area where DNA testing of cottontail pellets over the last 15 years has shown the presence of only New England cottontails,” and where signs of eastern cottontails – an imported non-native species that is much more numerous in New Hampshire and southern New England – have been absent.

Stonyfield Yogurt has earned both fame and consumer loyalty by making high-quality yogurt using organic ingredients; the company buys its milk from family farms, helping to keep those small concerns healthy and thriving, something that’s good for the environment as well as for local communities. It’s clear that Stonyfield wants to do its part for local wildlife, too, by hosting a critically important habitat project on its land.

How to Visit

Stonyfield Yogurt’s website provides directions to their plant and attached visitors center. The company periodically sponsors community events at and on the grounds of their yogurt works.

On Saturday, April 20, 2013, the company will host the Stonyfield Earth Day 5-Kilometer Race and Fair. The children’s race has officially been renamed the “Bunny Hop” to help bring attention to the habitat needs of the New England cottontail.

Funding and Partners

Stonyfield Yogurt, New Hampshire Fish & Game, New Hampshire Department of Transportation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service