The New Hampshire Fish and Game department declared the New England cottontail rabbit an endangered species in 2006. As its natural habitat rapidly diminishes, New England's only native rabbit faces possible extinction and is currently a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Local environmental organizations are making efforts to protect the cottontail, and the Community Church of Durham United Church of Christ has joined the cause as part of its Mission 4/1 Earth efforts.
"The population has been struggling and shrinking a lot," said Maggie Morrison, co-chair of the congregation's Home & World Mission Board. "These rabbits are specific to this area of the country – you can only find them here – so we want to help with the local efforts."
New England cottontail rabbits thrive in young forests, or areas with brush, shrubs and densely growing young trees. Unfortunately, development has destroyed much of this type of land, and the rabbit now resides in less than one-fifth of its historic range. Local agencies have been working to reestablish the cottontail's native habitat by creating nature preserves, like Lee Five Corners Reserve in Lee, N.H., a former gravel pit that has been reclaimed as a suitable habitat for cottontail rabbits.
During Mission 4/1 Earth, Community Church of Durham is hosting fundraisers to purchase various types of shrubbery to donate to the Lee Five Corners Reserve and other restorative areas. The youth group will sell buttons and reusable sandwich bags they made out of recycled cereal box liners. The third and fourth graders are also writing a play about the cottontail rabbit to perform at the end of the 50-day campaign. Morrison said the Community Church of Durham is already a very eco-conscious congregation, so working to help protect the New England cottontail was a unique approach to earth care that everyone could support.
"We needed to do something a little deeper to be close to the land, and the rabbits seemed like something people could connect to," she said.
Clackamas UCC in Milwaukie, Org., is another congregation that makes endangered species a priority. The congregation's youth group raises funds to "adopt" an endangered species each year, and will do so again during Mission 4/1 Earth. This year they are adopting the elephant. Animals they have supported in the past include the spirit bear, the Florida manatee, the California condor, the snowy plover, the black rhino, sea turtles, the snow leopard, gray wolves and the macaw. Last year, the congregation raised enough funds to send a camel to a region where there is now a shortage of the animal to provide camel milk and camel-hair products for an underprivileged community.
"We are all related and interdependent on this planet," Morrison said of the importance of protecting animal species. "If we don't take care of the animals and the fish and even the insects, our interconnectedness gets off balance. We've unbalanced it, and now we need to intervene."
To count your efforts on the Mission 4/1 Earth tally board, report your earth care hours, trees planting and letters written, report in as often as you like here.
Share the goals of Mission 4/1 Earth with your family and friends and invite them to join the movement.