Working Together to Help the New England Cottontail

ArrayJanuary 28, 2020 at 4:02 pm

By Regional Wildlife Biologist Cory Stearns

Managing and attempting to restore endangered species is a very difficult task. Most endangered species are rare due to multiple factors, such as the loss and fragmentation of habitat, the proliferation of invasive species, disease, pollution, and more. Due to these complexities, no single conservation organization can successfully bring a species back from the edge of extinction on their own. Therefore, wildlife agencies often work together and cooperatively with other conservation-oriented people and organizations.

A good example is the effort to restore the New England cottontail, which is listed as Endangered in both Maine and New Hampshire, and is a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in the other four states (MA, CT, RI, and NY) in which it occurs. In Maine, New England cottontails are currently known to occur in just six towns (Cape Elizabeth, Scarborough, Wells, Kittery, York, and Eliot) in the very southern part of the state, though they once occurred as far inland as the Auburn and Augusta areas, and as far east as Belfast.

A New England cottontail

To attempt to cooperatively reverse the decline of the species, state agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Wildlife Management Institute, and others came together to form the New England cottontail technical committee which developed a Conservation Strategy for the species in 2012 (available at Earlier this month, representatives from the above agencies, university researchers, and others met at the annual meeting in Southbury, CT to exchange information, provide updates on the status of cottontails in each state, and discuss strategies to enhance our restoration effort.

One of the most critical goals of the Conservation Strategy is to increase the amount of suitable habitat (thickets of shrubs and young trees) on the landscape by recruiting landowners to manage a portion of their land to create the habitat that cottontails and many other young forest-dependent species (e.g., American woodcock, prairie warbler, eastern towhee) need. Across New England, landowners of all types (private, business, municipal, state, land trusts and other conservation organizations) have joined the cause and are managing their lands for New England cottontails. Will you join us?

For more information, please refer to, contact MDIFW Regional Wildlife Biologist Cory Stearns at or 207-657-5759, or Maine’s New England Cottontail Restoration Coordinator Jeff Tash at or 207-646-9226 x 32.