Preparing Habitat for Cottontails
Tolland Site to be Cleared
Submitted by Mass Audubon
The New England cottontail, the imperiled native Massachusetts rabbit, continues to be at risk, having lost nearly 90 percent of its range in the Northeast over the past 50 years. The Tolland area is one of a few locations in the state that have been designated as New England cottontail recovery areas, and cottontails have been confirmed nearby.
As part of a continuing effort by state agencies and conservation partners to help the species survive, Mass Audubon in March will create a patch of young forest at its 108-acre Richardson Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, off Route 57 in Tolland.
The work will involve removing most trees from a 13-acre patch of white pine and hardwoods, while retaining some trees for wildlife and seed production. The project will include construction of large brush piles in the cleared area to provide cover for rabbits and birds.
The project will involve the use of chainsaws and heavy logging equipment, and the transition from forest to shrubland may appear shocking. Stumps and downed tree tops will be strewn over the project area, and remnant trees will appear scattered and thin over the slash.
However, within a growing season or two, the cleared area will start to form the dense cover favored by shrubland-related species, including songbirds such as chestnut-sided warbler, indigo bunting, and eastern towhee, in addition to New England cottontail. Black bear, moose, and white-tailed deer will doubtlessly also find food and shelter in the cleared area. Within a few years the site will be a prime habitat for these species and more.