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Berwick Academy Upper School Students Help With New England Cottontail Project

By Jewel McKenzie, Former Earth Team Volunteer Coordinator
Madbury, New Hampshire

Earth Team VolunteersThis past winter held on with a stubborn grip. Just when the warmer weather seemed to arrive, mid-April brought freezing rain to New Hampshire.  The grey skies and cold temperatures did not deter Gray Cornwell, an enthusiastic landowner working with NRCS on the New England Cottontail (NEC) Initiative.  The New England Cottontail is a "species of concern" that may become listed as an endangered species by the EPA in 2015 if populations don't increase before that time.  Cornwell, who teaches Natural Resources and Wildlife Conservation at Berwick Academy, owns and operates a small horse farm in Madbury, New Hampshire.  Gray and his wife, Katherine, have lived on the farm for twenty years and have been working with Soil Conservationist Keri Neal for some time.  NRCS has provided assistance with nutrient, pest, and forest management through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). By working with the NRCS to improve New England Cottontail habitat on their property, the Cornwells will be protected from any possible future regulatory costs associated with the endangered species. 

Earth Team VolunteersOn this particular cold and wet April day, Cornwell and fellow Berwick Academy teachers John Davies and Bill Clapp, transported and worked with 32 of their students on the first phase of the project site.   Berwick Academy participates in two Community Service Days per year.  During these days, the high school students spend a day working on a service project in the Seacoast region.  Cornwell and his colleagues chose students who they felt would benefit from, and contribute to, the NEC restoration project, and most of them joined the NRCS Earth Team Volunteer Program by helping with this conservation effort.  The work crew removed undesirable species with hand saws and loppers to prepare for the next phase of the project which is planting.  Numerous brush piles were created on site, which will provide shelter for numerous animals, including the New England Cottontail rabbit.   

Prior to the spring clearing, Cornwell brought students out to the site to look for signs of the cottontail.  Matt Larkin, NRCS Soil Conservation Technician, assisted collecting pellets.  He submitted the samples to Heidi Holman, NH Fish & Game Wildlife Biologist, for DNA identification.  The results are pending.  

Earth Team VolunteersThe entire NEC site is comprised of six acres, and the plan is to work on two acres per year.  The clearing and planting plan was designed by Neal and UNH Cooperative Extension Wildlife Program Assistant, Emma Carcagno.   A variety of plant species that naturally occur in NEC habitat will be established using bare-root, live stakes and potted plants.  It will consist of a large variety of plants including red-osier dogwood, gray dogwood, silky dogwood, winterberry, buttonbush, pussy willow, and many more.

In total, 36 volunteers participated and yielded 288 Earth Team hours, contributing an estimated $6,376*. Kudos to the Epping Field Office and Berwick Academy for their support of the Earth Team Program, an excellent start to the field season and just in time for National Volunteer Week (April 21-27)!

*The volunteer value from the Independent Sector for Fiscal Year 2013 is $22.14.  NRCS uses the Independent Sector value for volunteer time. http://www.independentsector.org/volunteer_time