The Wrack

The Wrack is the Wells Reserve blog, our collective logbook on the web.

Bunny and the Dogwood Wattles

Posted by | March 26, 2013

New England Cottontail in Cape Elizabeth in 2010. Photo by USFWS.On Monday, a 13-ton machine rolled down the reserve's "F field" to make habitat for a 2-pound rabbit. The "Easter Excavator," a Caterpillar 311, was specially modified for working in sensitive areas such as ours. Despite its burly bearing, the excavator exerted less than 5½ pounds of pressure per square inch on the work site. Evidence of its visit is visible along the Muskie Trail for now, but as the grassland greens up this spring the fresh signs should quickly fade away.

Excavator digging troughs for wattle planting. Photo by Kelly Boland.

The machine's job was simple: Assist Environmental Restoration Services in planting 150 6-foot by 6-inch silky dogwood wattles in an area being managed specifically for New England cottontail rabbits and other brush-loving wildlife.

Dogwood wattle in planting trough near Muskie TrailPlant wattles are bunches of shrub branches — willow, alder, or dogwood, for example — bundled, bound, and planted horizontally in troughs. If all goes well, roots grow downward and plants sprout upward, creating the kind of thick growth required by New England cottontails. Two test lanes that were planted last year had performed well, so managers decided to lay down 900 linear feet over 1.7 acres this spring.

New England Cottontail distribution map from U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServiceThe job was done quickly, thanks to a machine that could dig 150 troughs in little more than a morning and grade the surrounding soil where necessary for good drainage. It's not the first time heavy equipment has been brought in on behalf of the little bunny; several years ago and not far from this spring's project area, the reserve hosted its first mechanical coppice invigorator.

The New England cottontail, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, needs all the help it can get. Once widespread in the northeast, its distribution is now limited to five clusters of sites around New England and New York.

The wattle project was completed thanks to the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service's Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and the USFWS Partners for Wildlife program.

More Reading on the New England Cottontail

Photo Credits

  • New England Cottontail photo by USFWS, taken in Cape Elizabeth in 2010
  • Excavator photo by Kelly Boland, USFWS, New England Cottontail Restoration Coordinator

← View all Blog Posts