NH Fish and Game to Take Ownership of Cottontail Habitat

By Michael Cousineau, New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — The endangered New England cottontail has found a friend in the state Fish and Game Department, which soon is expected to own a prime piece of the rabbit’s habitat.

The Fish and Game Department said it is glad to take over ownership of 57 acres of conservation land near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, saving the airport about $30,000 a year.

New England cottontail in grass

Conservationists are hard at work protecting and creating habitat for the New England cottontail, the region's only native cottontail rabbit./Victor Young, NHFG

“We’re happy to take it,” said Glenn Normandeau, executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “We’re actively doing management at the property to help with the rabbit situation.”

The New England cottontail, classified as endangered in New Hampshire, needs thick shrub cover, which can be found on the site, to avoid predators, which is “pretty much everything,” Normandeau said.

Airport officials are working to transfer ownership to Fish and Game. Deputy Airport Director Tom Malafronte said the airport was spending $30,000 annually in recent years to maintain the site, including picking up discarded tires and construction materials.

In 2001, the airport purchased the property in Manchester and Londonderry for $1.1 million to offset filling in 13 acres of wetlands as part of expanding the southern portion of the airport’s north-south runway more than a decade ago.

“Preserving the New England cottontail habitat was an important consideration for NH Fish and Game, and one of the reasons that we felt strongly that they would be best suited to own and manage the property,” Malafronte said.

To protect the endangered species, the state has closed off areas of the Merrimack Valley from Concord south as well as a section of Rochester south to near Exeter from hunting any cottontail rabbit year-round to avoid any confusion.

The reason? Normandeau said: “Just because it’s difficult to tell them apart” from the other more populous rabbit species in New Hampshire, the non-native eastern cottontail.

The protection means people can’t harm, harass, injure or kill the rabbits, which run 15 to 17 inches long with brown and gray coats.

“I’m not aware we’ve ever prosecuted anyone for the taking of a listed species, but we certainly try to discourage it,” said Normandeau, who’s been to the airport property several times.

He called the parcel southwest of the airport “a good wildlife spot in the middle of what’s become a pretty significantly developed area.” The Londonderry-Merrimack area “is definitely one of the hot spots of their existing populations,” Normandeau said.

A notice in the Federal Register last week said NH Fish and Game would “continue to maintain the property in its natural state as a wildlife corridor in perpetuity.”

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Read a profile of the New England cottontail in New Hampshire.