LONDONDERRY — A collaborative habitat management program will help protect valuable cottontail rabbits calling Londonderry home.
New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has partnered with other state and conservation organizations in New England to develop a range-wide strategy to help protect the cottontail rabbit, an endangered species in New Hampshire. Londonderry has one of the largest remaining populations of the animal, according to a Fish and Game report prepared by wildlife habitat biologist Tom Brightman.
Brightman wrote a letter to property owners living in proximity to Londonderry's protected Musquash Conservation Area, where some tree and shrub removal work will be done this winter to help increase the habitat for the cottontail.
In the letter, Brightman stated that Fish and Game, along with other state and conservation organizations around New England, have worked together to develop the plan to help reverse any decline in cottontail numbers. Today, less than 25 percent of the rabbit's historic range of population numbers remain in the Granite State.
"The primary cause for the decline of this species is habitat loss and fragmentation," Brightman said. "The New England cottontail has very specific habitat needs, relying on dense, shrubby thickets for protection from predators."
In 2008, Londonderry was the first New Hampshire town to create supportive cottontail habitat areas when conservation officials teamed up with Stonyfield Yogurt to clear trees to create young forest on five acres outside the company's Londonderry factory and six adjacent acres of state Department of Transportation land.
Efforts to protect the rabbits continued and in 2013, the town and state partnered for a 20-acre wildlife project on the Musquash conservation land that was monitored to be suitable for cottontail to thrive there.
The upcoming winter work to be done in the Musquash will include tasks to promote the thick cover that protects the cottontail from predators. Activities include cutting trees and older shrubs that no longer provide that necessary cover.
Habitat management will take place in two specific areas of the Musquash.
Property owners who are neighbors to the work were informed via Brightman's letter to let them know about the cottontail work that will be taking place.
Areas to be treated were approved by the town's Conservation Commission and all work will be contingent on the weather conditions so other sensitive resources within the Musquash are minimally affected, Brightman said.