Amherst program on helping cottontails survive

AMHERST – Millions of children will be eating chocolate bunnies or sitting on the laps of giant bunnies to have their photos taken this weekend.

Rabbits as a symbol of Easter actually came down to us as a pagan fertility symbol because of their famous breeding habits.

Unfortunately for New England cottontails, their fertility has not been enough to ensure their survival.

Found only in New England and New York, these native bunnies are disappearing and in New Hampshire they are considered endangered, with only small remnant populations in the Seacoast and in the Merrimack Valley regions. Any rabbits seen around here would likely be the non-native, eastern cottontail.

On Thursday, April 2, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Amherst Town Library, Haley Andreozzi will give a presentation on the New England cottontail, with management techniques to help landowners help restore this rare rabbit.

Andreozzi is a biologist and University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension wildlife outreach coordinator.

New England cottontails are endangered mostly because their habitat has shrunk, Andreozzi said in a phone interview. They do not do well in either mature forests or fragmented developments, and that’s what New Hampshire has more and more of.

They only thrive in scrubland, with lots of low growing vegetation for them to hide in.

“And they need good-sized areas of it,” Andreozzi said, “with five acres or more.”

New England cottontails are easily confused with the eastern cottontail, which was introduced here in the early 1900s and has more flexible habitat needs. That’s because their larger eyes allow them to spot predators more quickly than the New England cottontail can, so they survive better in lawns and close-cropped fields. They are the ones you might see on a local golf course.

Over the past 50 years the rarer bunny has been declining. Before the 1960s the New England cottontail abounded in farmland throughout the southern and central portion of the state.

Andreozzi will explain the technical, financial and legal assistance programs now available to landowners who want to save or create what is technically known as “early successional” habitat (basically very young forest).

The state’s habitat enhancement program also helps other species of mammals, reptiles and birds.

The endangered smooth green snake and the spotted Blandings turtle like scrubland, said Andreozzi, and deer and bear also make use of these areas at times.

The program is sponsored by the UNH Cooperative Extension and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or
kcleveland@cabinet.com.