Snowshoe hare habitat use and silvicultural influences in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Kurzen, Mark Daniel
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Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are the main prey base of the Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) and are an important food source for many forest carnivores. Snowshoe hare research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is lacking and current research conclusions differ in regards to the types and ages of forests that snowshoe hares prefer. The US Forest Service has implemented limitations and prohibitions on silviculture in this area based on previous snowshoe hare studies. However, some research in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem suggests that regenerating lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) stands that are associated with silviculture benefit snowshoe hares. We implemented three snowshoe hare use indices in southwest Montana within a portion of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest during 1999-2012 to assess snowshoe hare use of forest cover types in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Our study area was located in a designated US Forest Service timber management area where a history of silviculture has resulted in a heterogeneous landscape of multiple successional stages intermingled with other old growth stands. We analyzed 11 years of snowshoe hare pellet plot surveys using linear mixed models and AIC c model selection. Our results suggested that the understory conifer species was the best predictor of use and that the youngest two classes of regenerating lodgepole pine stands had the greatest snowshoe hare use. We analyzed 13 years of snowshoe hare track counts on roads within our study area using Chi-squared goodness-of-fit tests based on proportional road segment lengths and the associated cover types. We observed the greatest snowshoe hare habitat use in the youngest two classes of regenerating lodgepole pine stands. We live-trapped snowshoe hares for one winter in our study area and observed the greatest number of hares captured per night in the youngest lodgepole pine stands. The findings from our 13 year study suggest that snowshoe hare use was greatest in early successional lodgepole pine forests that were approximately 30-60 years old and associated with clear cutting and pre-commercial thinning.