Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are an important prey species and a dominant herbivore across much of their North American range, and researchers have questioned the influences of forestry practices that alter habitat for hares and the potential community-level effects on carnivores. We examined the effects of precommercial thinning (PCT) from 1 to 11 years posttreatment on snowshoe hares. In the commercial forests of northern Maine, USA, we counted and cleared hare pellets twice a year during 2001 and 2002 on >46 km of pellet transects across 30 regenerating conifer stands (17 treated with PCT) previously treated with an aerial application of herbicide. We compared densities of snowshoe hare pellets among 3 development classes with (1 yr after thinning, 6 yr after thinning, and 11 yr after thinning) and without thinning (stands with a similar history of clearcut and herbicide treatment but no thinning). During both years, densities of hares were lower in stands treated with PCT than in similar unthinned stands across the 3 development classes and during both leaf-off and leaf-on seasons (P < 0.001). Within both thinned and unthinned stands, hare density was greatest in stands in the 1-year development class when compared to the 6-year and 11-year development classes, but a statistical difference (P = 0.048) among classes was evident only during leaf-off seasons. Precommercial thinning was associated with densities of snowshoe hares that were approximately half of those in similar unthinned stands up to at least 11 years posttreatment; however, thinned stands may retain densities of hares greater than stands managed using other forest harvesting regimes. Our results apply to core portions of stands with crop trees spaced at 1.8-2.4-m intervals following complete overstory removal and herbicide treatment. We advocate caution when applying our results to other thinning regimes or across broader spatial scales.
Additional Publication Details
Effects of precommercial thinning on snowshoe hares in Maine