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Rewilding at Maine's Inn by the Sea

August 8, 2014

Two years into Inn by the Sea's collaboration on native habitat restoration for endangered New England cottontail rabbits, more than bunnies benefit...native flora, local wildlife and people do too.

Cape Elizabeth, Maine. August 8, 2014..Mid winter rabbit tracking in the snowy Maine woods around Crescent Beach State Park is business as usual for staff at the luxurious and stylish Inn by the Sea. The Inn's staff learns to distinguish tracks identified with adorable, but severely endangered, New England cottontail bunnies as they trail after wardens from Maine's Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife.

Collaborating with the Department of Conservation and other state agencies to restore Cottontail Habitat is just one of many environmental initiatives undertaken by Inn by the Sea and their employees over the last decade. It's about preserving Maine's sense of place, said Carrie Dyer, the Inn's general manager. When people are able to make a personal connection to the natural world when in Maine, it tends to be magical. Helping preserve the state's pristine environment now, and for future generations is certainly the right thing to do, but it also makes good business sense. After all, Maine's natural beauty is what attracts tourism to the state, and to the Inn.

After exotic invasive plants swallowed up land on state property, completely choking out local wildlife and native vegetation, Inn by the Sea assumed responsibility for removing the non indigenous plant species, mostly Japanese Knotweed and bittersweet. They then created a Rabitat with local plants, restoring the acreage to native shrub land perfectly suited for the survival of endangered Cottontail bunnies. Two years later, the results of the Rabbitat installation are marked by the return of local wildlife, healthy plant biodiversity. and happy people.

It's enchanting to walk the boardwalk and catch a glimpse of a Red Tailed Hawk, a tiny tree frog or a monarch flitting between milkweed plants- the area is thriving again, alive with local wildlife, said Derrick Daly, head gardener at Inn by the Sea. The habitat restoration has created far more than a Rabbitat-- the land's been returned to a functioning ecosystem with native biodiversity, supporting predator and prey, and indigenous flora and fauna providing food and shelter to raise young.

Habitat restoration is important for local ecosystems but also impacts people, according to Daly- he says the aesthetic of natural spaces is vital to people's sense of well being. Sighting a cottontail on the Inn's boardwalk that winds through the Rabbitat just capped the vacation for a family visiting here yesterday - they were captivated by the wonderful surprise of seeing a wild bunny on their way up from the beach.

Daly, who is out on the grounds all week interacting with guests, keeps tabs on the comeback of daily wildlife sightings since the Rabbitats' restoration. His list includes Great Blue Herons, Canadian Geese, Wild Turkey's, Red Fox, and a variety of birds including Chickadees, Gold Finches, Blue Birds, Tree Swallows, a myriad of butterflies, coyotes and a Bobcat.

Today Inn guests peaked in on baby song sparrows in their nest, a Red Tailed Hawk has been soaring overhead, Monarchs returned after a tough winter with butterfly eggs and larvae visible on milkweed plants and we are nibbling from loaded blueberry bushes, said Daly. It's coastal Maine as it should be, and it's magical.