New Hampshire Fish and Game biological technician Brett Ferry releases rabbit

New Hampshire Fish and Game biological technician Brett Ferry released an eastern cottontail rabbit back into the wild at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington Monday.  

NEWINGTON — Work being done to help protect animals and birds living at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge has been lauded by officials and preservationists.

The 1,100-acre piece of land in Newington was once part of Pease Air Force Base. Since 1992, it has supported diverse habitats of plants and animals native to the Seacoast, including New Hampshire’s greatest concentration of wintering bald eagles and several state-listed rare and endangered species.

One of the species wildlife biologists are working to help repopulate is the New England cottontail rabbit. Found in southern New Hampshire, they are considered endangered in the state.

The rabbits are being released on a one-acre plot at the refuge. Wildlife Biologist Heidi Holman explained the rabbits need to be in dense shrubbery because they cannot see their predators well and are captured in open fields.

The more commonly sighted eastern cottontail rabbits are also found at the refuge, Holman said. Biologists are conducting DNA testing to study the potential long-term effects the eastern cottontail re-population may have on both species.

“We’re trapping them to see what was born,” Biological Technician Brett Ferry said, explaining that the rabbits mate in spring. “We have three rabbits right now we have discovered.”

Holman said since New Hampshire Fish and Game’s resources are limited, biologists are hoping residents will participate in the project and report their sightings at www.nhrabbitreports.org.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service rangers are trying to ensure other animals and birds who live there are not exposed to the contamination left behind when the base closed. Refuge manager Bill Peterson said they have detected perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals, barium and old solvent residues.

Peterson is hopeful that the removal of a dam next year at Peverly Pond will help. 

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, D-NH, who arranged the tour, has taken an interest in the contamination issues because it is a national problem on former military bases.

Shea-Porter, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said she is working with representatives from other states where bases were previously located.

“We’re going to have to stick with this a long time,” Shea-Porter said.

Though there are walking trails at the refuge, much of the area remains inaccessible to the public. There are more tours scheduled for Oct. 29.

To pre-register, call (978) 465-5753.