Making Habitat Wisely

Making Responsible Choices

Harvesting trees to create young, regrowing forest is one way to restore and make habitat for cottontails. Planting native shrubs can also do the trick, as can mowing shrubs that have gotten too old and straggling, which spurs their root systems to send up thick new growth that provides food and cover for bunnies.

Vernal pond in forest setting.

Cutting trees that shade vernal ponds may harm these important habitats./P. Paton

It's important to identify areas where we can help New England cottontails through managing their habitat. It's also important to know where not to create young forest and shrubland.

For example, logging on steep slopes can cause erosion. Cutting trees that cast shade on vernal pools and ephemeral wetlands may cause those important natural habitats to dry up too quickly in springtime, stranding young salamanders and frogs before they've had time to sufficiently develop.

Large blocks of unbroken forest in landscapes that have abundant farmland or developed areas should be carefully evaluated before logging. It may be best to let such woodlands continue to mature and remain as important habitat for the wild creatures that need older forest. Landowners should also consider the value of any timber before cutting it: Stands of high-quality hardwoods should probably be managed to produce valuable sawlogs rather than clearcut and turned into young forest.

Keeping All Wildlife in Mind

Red-headed woodpecker

Conservationists consider how habitat projects affect all wildlife./E. Guthro

Responsible managers make sure not to harm the habitats of endangered or threatened species. State wildlife agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can advise on whether such wildlife is likely to occur in a given area, and can offer advice on how to plan and integrate different management activities to help all wildlife.

There are many suitable places and ways to do young-forest and shrubland habitat work that will help rabbits and other wild creatures that need the same kind of habitat. Projects can be sited on old pastures grown up with poor-quality pines and hardwoods. They can create and expand shrubland buffers along marshes and streams.

Are you a private landowner thinking about making habitat for New England cottontails? Technical advice and financial incentives are available to ensure the most benefits for rabbits and the fewest impacts on other important natural resources. For more advice, contact your state wildlife agency or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Partners program.

These habitat professionals can help you get started. And check out the Young Forest Guide for a non-technical introduction into how to make young forest for wildlife.