New England cottontails were once abundant throughout southern Rhode Island west of Narragansett Bay, but their numbers plummeted as young forest and shrubland dwindled in the state. Habitat was lost through natural forest maturation (cottontails don’t live in older woodlands) and to residential and commercial development. In recent years, biologists have found evidence of four small populations.
Land Trust’s Role Includes Actively Managing Habitat
“We know the population of the New England cottontail rabbit has fallen rangewide,” says Gary Casabona, a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) biologist based in Warwick, R.I. “Here in Rhode Island, the species’ decline has been especially dramatic. It’s also been hard to quantify, thanks to a lookalike rabbit, the eastern cottontail, that’s also found across the state.”
Powerlines transmit much-needed electricity, and they can also serve a completely different function: provide movement corridors for wildlife. That’s what’s happening on a right-of-way that bisects 3,745-acre Great Swamp Wildlife Management Area in southern Rhode Island.