Management Over Time

Managing Habitat

Controlled burns improve habitat by spurring new plant growth.

Controlled burning improves habitat by spurring new plant growth.

Managing habitat for New England cottontails can take many forms, depending on the acreage involved and the condition or growth stage of the vegetation. While shrub areas often can be maintained fairly easily, creating new habitat or restoring older, overmature habitat to a thicker state may require more time, effort, and expense.

Landowners and land managers can create or renew habitat through mechanical cutting (done by hand with chainsaws, on up through large brush- and tree-removing machines); the careful use of fire (often called "controlled burning" or "prescribed burning"); applying herbicides to suppress exotic invasive shrubs in favor of native species; and planting native shrubs. Natural resources professionals, including foresters with wildlife training and employees with federal and state agencies, can help landowners and property managers decide what will work best on a given site, plus guide them toward funding that may pay for management activities. These contacts can help.

Habitat managers can find detailed advice in Best Management Practices for the New England Cottontail. People who own farms with working woodlands or forested vacation properties can download and read the non-technical Young Forest Guide to learn more.

How Much Is Needed?

Because some management actions – brush-hogging a field or clearcutting a forested tract – can temporarily eliminate a certain amount of wildlife habitat, managers must ensure that rabbits will always have enough other habitat close by. A thoughtful management plan can shift habitat-creation efforts throughout a tract, keeping enough good cover over time and space so that cottontails thrive. Remaining core habitats should be at least 25 acres. Landowners with smaller holdings may be able to cooperate with their neighbors to put together larger habitat projects. Visit a demonstration area to see what rabbit habitat looks like.

For more information on young forest and the wildlife that need this important habitat, including the New England cottontail, check out the Young Forest Project.