To evaluate effects of noncommercial thinning, utilization of forages consumed by elk (Cervus elaphus L.), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus Raf.), and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Raf.) was measured in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa P. & C. Lawson) stands in Custer State Park, S. D. Treatments consisted of unthinned (control; 22 to 32 m2/ha basal area), moderately thinned (12 to 22 m2/ha basal area), and heavily thinned (3 to 13 m2/ha basal area) stands of ponderosa pine. During June, July, and August, 1991 and 1992, about 7,000 individual plants were marked along permanent transects and percent-weight-removed by grazing was ocularly estimated. Sample plots were established along transects and plants within plots were clipped to estimate standing biomass. Pellet groups were counted throughout the study area to determine summer habitat use of elk and deer. Diet composition was evaluated using microhistological analysis of fecal samples. Average percent-weight-removed from all marked plants and percent-plants-grazed were used to evaluate forage utilization. Standing biomass of graminoids, shrubs, and forbs increased (P < 0.05) from unthinned to moderately and heavily thinned stands. Utilization of graminoids and shrubs averaged less than 1% when measured as percent-weight-removed and percent-plants-grazed and did not differ (P > 0.05) across treatments. Forb use averaged less than 5% within sampling periods when measured as percent-weight-removed and percent-of-plants grazed and did not differ among treatments. Results of pellet group surveys indicated that cervids were primarily using meadow habitats. When averaged over the 2 years, forbs were the major forage class in deer diets, whereas graminoids were the major forage class in diets of elk.
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Cervid forage utilization in noncommercially thinned ponderosa pine forests