New England Cottontail
The New England cottontail is the region’s only native rabbit. It was also the inspiration for author Thornton W. Burgess’ “The Adventures of Peter Cottontail.”
The New England cottontail depends on young forests, or early successional habitat, which has declined over the past 50 years. Loss and fragmentation of habitat is the primary threat to the species. Today, the New England cottontail occupies less than one-fifth of the range it inhabited in the early 1900s.
Farmers and forest landowners in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island are helping the New England cottontail rebound by voluntarily conserving habitat on their land. Farmers and forest landowners are largely credited with helping the rabbit rebound, which prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine in September 2015 that protections under the Endangered Species Act were not necessary.
Among the landowners committed to the cottontail is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which manages 50 acres of scrub oak and pine forest on Cape Cod to help the New England cottontail. The New England cottontail is not only part of the Cape’s ecosystem but also part of the tribe’s heritage. Read more about the tribe’s work.
NRCS offers technical and financial assistance to help farmers and forest landowners to voluntarily improve New England cottontail habitat on private lands. This assistance helps landowners plan and implement a variety of conservation activities, or practices, that benefit the rabbit and agricultural operations.
Technical assistance is free, and the agency’s staff of experts works side-by-side with landowners to develop conservation plan s that are designed for the customer’s land and provide roadmaps for how to use a suite of conservation practices to meet natural resource and production goals.
Financial assistance helps landowners pay for the adoption of conservation practices that improve the health of forest ecosystems. NRCS assistance covers part of the cost. Common conservation practices for the New England cottontail include management for young forests, planting of trees and shrubs and removal of invasive plants.
The New England cottontail is a target species of the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership, a collaborative approach to improve wildlife habitat while keeping working lands working. Through WLFW, NRCS achieves the greatest benefits wildlife by targeting specific threats to quality habitat and by prioritizing areas where projects will most benefit rabbit populations. Read the agency’s FY16-18 conservation strategy.
WLFW is able to provide technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, two programs supported by the Farm Bill, the largest funding source for wildlife habitat conservation on private lands.
NRCS’ efforts align with the Conservation Strategy for the New England Cottontail, a multi-state plan to create or improve 42,000 acres of early successional habitat for the cottontail by 2030. The strategy, developed by the New England Cottontail Technical Committee, has a goal to support 21,000 or more cottontails. NRCS’ efforts are focused on goals for habitat conservation on private lands through WLFW. The WLFW has outlined goals specific to NRCS for restoring habitat in the Northeast with assistance from Farm Bill conservation programs administered by USDA.
If you’re interested in technical and financial assistance from NRCS, please contact your local USDA service center. A conservationist in your community will help you develop a conservation plan customized to your land.If you’re interested you can also apply for financial assistance through Farm Bill conservation programs. Learn more about getting started with NRCS.