Winter habitat use and diet of snowshoe hares in the Gardiner, Montana area
Zimmer, Jeremy Paul
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Habitat preference and diet selection of snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) are poorly understood. This study was initiated to provide base line data on snowshoe hares for the Environmental Assessment for the proposed Darroch-Eagle Creek Timber Sale and was continued subsequent to this analysis to further investigate snowshoe hare ecology. Hare habitat use and diet were monitored in the Bear Creek Drainage near Gardiner, Montana during the winters of 1999-2003, primarily by the means of snow tracking. Of the 8 most common cover types in my study area, I found the greatest densities of hare tracks in older regenerating stands (50 years post-harvest) of lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) that had been thinned. My study area also contained young unthinned stands of lodgepole pine (25 years postharvest) as well as several middle age and mature forest types. The 50-year-old lodgepole stands provided a dense understory and a well-developed overhead canopy as well as plentiful food sources. These 3 characteristics typically define good snowshoe hare habitat. I also found that snowshoe hares fed predominantly on 3 species during winter, lodgepole pine, Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa), but also consumed a variety of other trees, shrubs, and forbs. Current forest management strategies do not allow precommercial thinning in areas of potential lynx (Lynx canadensis) habitat. My study showed that thinned stands can provide good habitat for hares. Thinning portions of harvested areas may also increase the amount of time that regenerating stands provide suitable habitat for hares.