In an effort to stop New England Cottontails from vanishing in Maine, Inn by the Sea, the Maine Department of Conservation and Bureau of Parks and Lands are collaborating to restore habitat for the endangered rabbits at Crescent Beach State Park.
Loss of native shrubland and predation are causes commonly attributed to the region’s dwindling Cottontail populations. Cottontail habitats typically include a combination of local shrubs, vines, dense thicket and wetlands.
Inn by the Sea has assumed responsibility for removing invasive, non indigenous plant species, such as bamboo, from two acres on state park and private property near Crescent Beach, and has restored the acreage to native shrubland habitat suitable for the survival of New England Cottontails. Restoration work began in November 2011 and finished in early spring. Inn by the Sea planted the area with indigenous shrubs such as raspberry, blackberry, dogwood, alder, winterberry and dewberry to create a high quality and safe habitat for rabbits. Herbs and grasses such as goldenrod, clover, plantain, chickweed, wild strawberry and buttercup were also planted as additional food sources.
Collaboration to restore Cottontail Habitat is just one of many environmental initiatives undertaken by Inn by the Sea over the last decade. “The beauty of Cape Elizabeth’s natural surroundings is an important part of our guest’s experience,” said Sara Masterson, the Inn’s general manager. “Restoring habitat and preserving the state’s pristine environment for future generations is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense. Maine’s natural environment is the magnet that attracts tourism to the state.”
The New England cottontail, named in 2006 as a candidate for the US Endangered Species Act, is listed as endangered in Maine and New Hampshire. According to the US fish and Wildlife Service, the Cottontails’ range from New York through New England has diminished by 86% since 1960. The species has all but disappeared in Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire.
New England Cottontails stay brown all winter, unlike their look alike, non native counter parts, the Eastern Cottontail. Eastern cottontails, which exist in abundance, are also believed to have better peripheral vision, and a faster flight response than do New England Cottontails, who may depend solely on diminishing thickets for safety.
New England Cottontails tend to be shy and solitary, resting under cover of stalks and brambles during the day, and venturing out early morning or at dusk to forage for vegetation. The rabbits’ home ranges from .05 to 8 acres. Scientific research shows New England Cottontails travel no more than 16 feet from suitable cover to find food, making the installation of combined thicket and food source vital to the Cottontails survival. Inn by the Sea hopes the restored habitat will stop, at least, this one disappearing rabbit trick.
Photo courtesy of Inn by the Sea