Creating habitat for the New England Cottontail Rabbit

Did you know the territory for Cottontails, the only native rabbit in New England, has diminished 86% since the 1950s?  In Maine, these bunnies are now only found in York and Cumberland counties, and are a rare species to see: they are listed as an endangered animal in our state.

As our forests have matured, the shrub land that the Cottontail needs for survival has drastically declined.  This early-successional habitat, formed of small shrubby growth and thickets, is also essential to the survival of many bird species such as warblers and thrashers, who rely upon this type of environment for nesting, food, and survival.  For the rabbits, this habitat needs to be in tracts of at least 10 acres or more to provide appropriate protection from predation and disease.

What can we do?

This winter timber on two separate tracts of land on the Rustlewood Farm property in Kittery/Eliot will be cut to open these areas for shrubland to develop.  This tree removal on over 25 acres will be able to be seen from Route 101.  While the visual impact will be dramatic at the start, with tree branches and brush piles gathered to create cover for rabbits, in three or four years this area will regenerate itself with native shrub species such as wild blueberry, blackberry and raspberry bushes, viburnum and more.

Some of our members will remember in 2009/2010 loggers did a similar action on ten acres on the Rachel Carson Preserve on Cutts Island. They worked carefully, preserving desirable young-forest trees along with native shrubs like arrowwood and gray birch. This area quickly regenerated, creating a dense thicket of shrubs and tree seedlings. The Rustlewood Farm cut will be similar.