For FY 2013, NRCS continues an innovative Working Lands for Wildlife partnership to preserve working lands and conserve habitat for wildlife species including the New England cottontail rabbit. In 2012, NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an historic agreement to extend wildlife conservation efforts on working agricultural lands that will provide long-term regulatory predictability for up to 30 years to RI farmers and forest landowners participating in the initiative. Participants voluntarily implement proven conservation practices designed to protect wildlife habitat such as the New England cottontail rabbit on private lands.
Working Lands for Wildlife is a national effort with $33 million in funding nationwide from the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). In FY 2012, Rhode Island NRCS obligated over $227,000 in contracts to improve New England cottontail rabbit habitat. The partnership will demonstrate that productive working rural lands are compatible with the needs of sensitive wildlife species. Nationally, other at risk species include the bog turtle, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, greater sage-grouse, lesser prairie-chicken, and Southwestern willow flycatcher. The New England cottontail rabbit was listed as a candidate species under the Federal Endangered Species Act due to an 86 percent decline in its historic range. The primary threat to the New England cottontail is the loss of habitat through succession. As forests mature, understory thins to such an extent that the habitat is no longer suitable for the New England cottontail. Fragmentation serves to further degrade habitat on a larger scale. Infestation of invasive plants and alterations of hydrology are additional common resource concerns affecting the New England cottontail.