The New England cottontail (Sylvilagus transitionalis) is a rabbit that prefers early successional habitat in states east of the Hudson River. Since the 1960s, development and maturing forests decreased the cottontail’s range by 86 percent, causing New England’s only native rabbit to suffer population declines.
State and federal biologists began a coordinated effort in 2008 to restore habitat for the cottontail. That effort included habitat restoration work by NRCS on private lands, which is helping the rabbit rebound. In 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the New England cottontail did not merit listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The New England cottontail is reluctant to leave the cover and food found in early successional habitat. To create habitat, NRCS works with landowners to restore early successional habitat by planting shrubs and by removing trees and invasive plants.
Through Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW), NRCS provides technical and financial assistance as well as predictability to landowners. Predictability enables landowners to operate their farms and ranches as long as NRCS-prescribed conservation practices are maintained under the ESA for up to 30 years.
Restoring habitat for the New England cottontail not only benefits the cottontail but other species with similar habitat needs, including whitetail deer and roughed grouse. More than sixty species, including the cottontail, benefit from this conservation effort.
- 643, Restoration and Management of Rare and Declining Habitats
- 644, Wetland Wildlife Habitat Management
- 645, Upland Wildlife Habitat Management
- Control brush and herbaceous weeds to manage invasive plants.
- Re-establish of native woody vegetation.
- Cut trees and shrubs to encourage dense forest regeneration and rehabilitation of shrublands.
- Restore wetland seeps within priority areas.
- Increase connectivity of habitat in core areas.
- Develop Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances.
Outcomes and Impacts
Landowners will enhance, restore and protect habitat for the New England cottontail and other species using early successional habitat, aiding in the implementation of its recovery plan and giving landowner confidence that the conservation practices they implement will not harm the species or its habitat.
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