Effects of Precommercial Thinning on Snowshoe Hares in Maine


E-mail: jhomyack@vt.edu


Abstract: 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.