New England Cottontail and Early Successional Habitat Project

Important Information New England Cottontail and Early Successional Habitat Project

NE CottontailProject Goal: To restore a viable population of New England cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis) to New Hampshire by working with landowners to increase suitable habitat and augmenting the population with captive bred rabbits.

Description: To help bring back these rare rabbits, the Nongame Program is working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), US Fish and Wildlife, five states and various non-profit partners as part of the New England Cottontail Initiative. The primary action includes creating more of the shrubland habitat that New England cottontails need for food and shelter. This work is focused in southern New Hampshire where the species has continued to persist  Biologists monitor the habitat to determine suitability for release of rabbits from the breeding program or colonization from nearby occupied locations.

Location: Southeastern New Hampshire

Captive-breeding: Another exciting part of the project is the Nongame Program's partnership with a regional captive breeding program. Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island and Queen’s Zoo in New York have raised over 300 cottontail rabbits for release in the wild. These rabbits are transported to a special outdoor enclosure in Newington, NH, at the Service’s Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge, where they spend a few weeks foraging and learning to hide in a semi protected environment.  After a few weeks the rabbits are affixed with radio collars and released into the wild. To date over 40 rabbits have been released, with natural reproduction documented.

Timeline: Surveys in New Hampshire and other states have been showing a decline in the distribution of the New England cottontail throughout its range. The most significant causes of the species decline have been loss of habitat and fragmentation of early successional shrubland (thicket) habitat. The hunting season for New England cottontails was closed in 2004 and the species was listed as endangered in New Hampshire in 2008. In 2008, biologists from NH Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program began surveying areas that may provide suitable habitat that could support New England cottontails. Management activities to provide suitable habitat areas and protect the remaining populations of New England cottontails were implemented beginning in 2010. To date, over 1,000 acres of habitat have been managed with over 50 partners.

Partners (in addition to many other partners):

Funding: Private donations have provided the foundation for the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program since its inception in 1988. Contributions support the on-the-ground work and also enable the Nongame Program to qualify for additional funding through grants from both the State of New Hampshire and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Donations made to the Nongame Program are matched dollar-for-dollar by the State of New Hampshire up to $50,000 annually. Please help keep this project going by donating to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.

The Nongame Program also receives a portion of proceeds from the sale of the NH Conservation License plate (moose plate) each year. To learn more please visit the NH Moose Plate Program online at

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided funding for the conservation of New England cottontails in New Hampshire and across the region since 2008 through various program including Keystone Initiatives and the newly created New England Forests and Rivers Fund.

Outcomes: To date over 1,000 acres of habitat management have been implemented on public and private lands in New Hampshire. As of fall 2015, over 40 rabbits will be released from the captive breeding program to augment the population in New Hampshire.