Snowshoe Hare Habitat Relationships in Response to Northern Forest Management
September 2013 - December 2015
- Pennsylvania Game Commission
The snowshoe hare is a game animal (34 Pa. CSA, § 102) and a species of “maintenance concern” in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan due to its sensitivity to habitat changes and its importance for gene flow between states to the north and south in the Appalachians (Steele et al., 2010). The current limited distribution of snowshoe hares in western northcentral PA and the Poconos is thought to reflect the limited availability of critical habitat components in snowshoe hare range. In the Poconos, snowshoe hares inhabit high elevation wetlands and remaining pockets of scrub oak barrens. Hare abundance and distribution is thought to be directly related to the availability and spatial distribution of these high quality habitats. In northwestern Pennsylvania, hares are still relatively abundant in shrubby wetlands and nearby conifers. In both regions, these unique habitats are believed to serve as “reservoirs”, where hares can persist when adjacent habitats age and become unsuitable. Managers generally assume that forest disturbance such as fire, timber harvest, wind throw, or insect damage in these adjacent areas promotes dense shrub and young tree growth which benefit snowshoes hares and allows them to expand geographically. However, habitat studies in the southern fringe of the snowshoe hare’s range have been limited and the spatial relationships of critical habitats have yet to be described quantitatively. This research is proposed to aid in developing a comprehensive spatial understanding of snowshoe hare habitat relationships to better understand factors affecting snowshoe hare abundance and distribution in Pennsylvania. Additionally, we need to develop management guidelines to improve northern forest habitats, protect critical habitat features, and to conserve sustainable snowshoe hare populations. Project Objectives 1. To characterize the habitats used by snowshoe hare in northern hardwoods forests in Northwestern Pennsylvania and the scrub oak barrens in the Poconos region. 2. To estimate space use by hares and investigate how the spatial distribution of habitats influences home range size and movements. 3. Use the information gained from Objectives 1 and 2 to predict the effects of forest management on habitat use and distribution of snowshoe hares.