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In addition to the New England cottontail, the habitat restoration project also benefits other species that make the ground cover their home, including the Black Racer and hognose snakes, the box turtle, the ruffed grouse, and the whip-poor-will bird.

Bunny Business

The Trustees received funding for the project from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The project in Mashpee is part of The New England Cottontail Initiative, a larger effort which involves agencies sharing the goal of reviving the cottontail populations from Maine to east of the Hudson River in New York. In designated regions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with private landowners such as the Trustees concerning eligibility for funding to allow habitat restoration work to be conducted on their properties. Ted Kendziora, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the goal is to establish corridors for the cottontail to travel from one habitat to another. “We have projects going throughout the range,” says Kendziora. “It’s all inter-linked.”

When Mashpee was identified as a focus area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Trustees, and other groups worked together to apply for a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It took well over a year and a half to get this project funded and planned,” Kendziora says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of great work.”

The Mashpee River Reservation, Hopping says, was deemed a good spot for the project because it was near other rabbit populations. And at 50 acres, the area is large enough to serve as a viable New England cottontail habitat. It’s also situated in a rural area with few homes nearby and the property is not fragmented into smaller parcels. To maintain the habitat in the future, additional work will likely include a controlled burn in coming years.

Nancy Durfee, the Trustees’s Southeast Engagement Manager, says she views the project as an opportunity to reach out to the community to let them know the cottontail is in danger and what can be done to help. “I think one of the most important things about this project is its visibility,” she says. “We’re really the last frontier for this species. We don’t want to see them extirpated. I’d hate to see us lose a species when we had an opportunity to preserve it.”

Kendziora says the question he hears most from neighbors to a project, or passersby, is the following: Why are you cutting down the trees? “One of the most important things is to teach people that cutting trees does create habitat,” Kendziora says. “There’s a misconception that, when you cut a tree, someone’s going to come in the next day and pave it. What I’m trying to do is to teach people that cutting trees, for habitat, and doing it the right way with a professional, is a good thing. It’s not cutting for development.”

At least, not in a traditional sense. In this case, the development the Trustees are hoping for involves smaller-scale homes intended for smaller residents, featuring a natural look—and a little protective cover.

For more information about the Trustees of Reservations, visit thetrustees.org.

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About

Matthew Gill

Matthew is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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