A once-familiar rabbit may soon make a comeback in southwestern Massachusetts.
The New England cottontail is the only rabbit native to the Commonwealth — its more familiar cousin, the Eastern cottontail, was introduced in the past hundred years or so. The cottontail once was plentiful, but is now a candidate to be added to the Federal endangered species list.
Berkshire-based forester Peter Tucker is helping some local property owners try to turn the tide for the cottontail.
“We still have it in certain parts but only very small parts of Massachusetts, and neighboring Connecticut and New Hampshire, but it is, over 80 percent of its range has been diminished.”
The problem is severe enough that the New England cottontail is one of seven animals protected in a nationwide program offered by the federal departments of the interior and agriculture. Some property owners in the tiny rural enclave of Otis recently brought in forestry experts to help them create a habitat more friendly to the cottontail.
That means cutting down many of the trees on their land, and letting scrub brush and dense thicket, which the rabbit prefers, to grow in. They’`ll do that over the winter with the help of twenty five thousand federal dollars.
John Hitt, who has a small house in Otis with his wife Carrie, suggested the idea to developer Phil Coleman, who owns the adjacent land.
There are already some cottontails in the area, and Hitt would like to see them start thriving.
“I’m not worried we’ll ever be overrun by cottontails, I think the idea is just to get a healthy, sustainable population.”
This is no quick fix—after the trees come down, it’ll take at least one full growing season before the land starts to become more cottontail-friendly.