It was concluded that a lack of vegetative thickness, such as shrubs, etc. and lack of tops and fallen logs on the ground was responsible (habitat). They also listed global warming as a factor, especially in the southern portion of their range. With a shorter span of snow cover the white hares become more acceptable to predation. Over a decade or more we sounded the alarm that our snowshoe hare were disappearing and were in trouble. We documented the problem and solutions in articles that appeared in Michigan Turkey Tracks that is sent to top DNR management.
Young cedar in the swamps is no longer available to hares as both winter food and cover. Hares were found living in young pine plantations in close proximity but lack of escape cover left them vulnerable to predation. We advised to maintain a continuous presence of new growth aspen. After a clear cut leave the tops laying on the ground, especially when several tops are placed together. This will furnish them with both necessary food and cover. It may even be possible to have rabbits again on our northern state forests.
Just the simple act of leaving an adequate number of tree tops on the ground after harvest has many wildlife benefits, especially when several are grouped together. They provide a source of food for deer the following winter after harvest. When new growth appears it draws in many species of wildlife. Without escape cover (tops) they are subject to extreme predation. Tops are used by ground nesting birds. Tops are beneficial to every form of wildlife from deer to insects. Eventually they rot and replenish the soil.
In a past issue of Turkey Tracks we reported on a study in Missouri that revealed many hen turkeys nesting in utility right of ways where tree tops and limbs were left on the ground. Throughout the northern lower peninsula our Wild Turkeys have been declining each year. During the summer months flocks of big adult hens can be seen traveling together without any poults present. Why aren’t they bringing off a successful hatch?
It appears that severe predation of the nests is a major problem. From the time a hen lays her first egg until the poults are hatched is about a month and a half. During this long period predators have plenty of time to locate a nest.
Tree tops and brush piles provide great cover for ground nesting birds such as turkeys, grouse, woodcock and other avian species, yet they are relatively rare. After years of pressing the issue the DNR has come out with specs on retention of tops. Unfortunately they are voluntary guidelines when they should be mandatory and not token wildlife management.
Several years ago I attended a state forest compartment review and was pressing the issue of retention of tree tops after harvest. One irritated DNR forester told me that I was in the wrong place. Another explained that the loggers have thousands of dollars invested in their choppers and they had to be fed. They were truthful in acknowledging that dollars are the bottom line in the management of OUR state forests.
Back to the hare study. In response to the study one DNR spokesman stated “The advise that we have been to provide about snowshoe hares has been limited prior to this research, but if conditions line up right on given years, we could have an impact on the population.” Another DNR spokesman stated “The findings play right into our management of state forest lands,” REALLY? Other than consideration of climate change for years we have sounded the alarm and offer solutions that the MSU study calls or and for years we have been ignored. Any bets on any meaningful changes?
Isn’t hindsight blissful?