Changes Sought to Proposed Fish and Game Agreement for Rabbit Protection

The Town Council shot down on Monday a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) proposed by New Hampshire Fish and Game, saying its language is too restrictive to any future Council.

Councilor Tom Freda expressed concern over the last line in the contract, which states, “This agreement becomes effective upon the signature of all parties, and shall remain in effect indefinitely, or until modified by agreement of both parties.”

“I think this is overly cumbersome for future councils,” Councilor Tom Dolan agreed. “I think the net portion of the MOU is fine, and we would agree to change things mutually, but add some language so that either party reserves the right to terminate the agreement.”

“The timeline is relevant with the biological conservation of the species to bring them into the area,” Fish and Game Wildlife Biologist Heidi Holman told the Council. “We suggest an agreement for a minimum of 10 years. That’s standard with a lot of private landowners we work with.”

Fish and Game Program Coordinator John Kanter said the long-term agreement for a cleared habitat is intended to bring flexibility as to how conservation management is accomplished.

“We have to bring a net benefit to the species, having given up mitigation,” he said.

Councilor John Farrell noted the Town has already taken steps to manage new habitat for the New England Cottontail in the Musquash conservation area, and that several of the new areas Fish and Game has proposed clearing to create rabbit habitat are located in the Musquash, a Town-owned conservation area.

“It’s unlikely a future council will change their mind,” he said. “What the Council is trying to convey is, we want to allow those people to make their own decisions. We’re not trying to stop (the project), we’re just trying to let other people make up their own mind. And based on the parcels you’re looking at, my guess is it would be unlikely they would change.”

Last month, the School Board also voted down a MOU with Fish and Game to establish rabbit habitat on Londonderry School District property.

In April, the Conservation Commission voted 7-0 to recommend the MOU for clearing and managing the town and school properties proposed.

With the New England Cottontail at risk of becoming a State endangered species, Holman said the proposed clearing and management of rabbit habitat in Londonderry is an important part of maintaining populations.

“The cause of their decline is a loss of habitat – young forest or very thick shrubby area where they can seek protection and feed,” she said. “The population here in Londonderry is the largest population in New Hampshire remaining. It’s also in a prime area of development.”

Londonderry partnered in 2013 with the State for a 20-acre wildlife opening in the Musquash that Holman reported is being monitored, and should be ready for rabbits to inhabit within the next three to five years.

The clearing, which has vegetated into thick shrubbery, is also home to many other species that seek such habitat.

The project Holman and Kanter presented to the Council earlier this week would create 80 acres to be cleared and managed.

The management would result in no cost to the town, and any income generated from timber harvesting would be returned to the Town.

“The area near Pettengill Road is suitable habitat for the New England Cottontail, which has been close to being put on the Endangered Species list,” Town Manager Kevin Smith said. “That would make Pettengill development significantly more difficult than it currently is. Entering into this agreement would show a good faith effort on the part of the Town and the State to keep the animal off the Endangered Species list.”

The Council directed Holman and Kanter to return with a MOU featuring language that would allow the Town to terminate the contract at will.

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