Influence of Forest Structure on the Abundance of Snowshoe Hares in Western Wyoming
Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus) are a primary prey species for Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) in western North America. Lynx management plans require knowledge of potential prey distribution and abundance in the western United States. Whether even-aged regenerating forests or multi-storied forests contain more snowshoe hares is currently unknown. During 2006–2008, we estimated snowshoe hare density in 3 classes of 30–70-year-old lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) and 4 classes of late seral multi-storied forest with a spruce (Picea engelmannii)-fir (Abies lasiocarpa) component in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Wyoming. We recorded physiographic variables and forest structure characteristics to understand how these factors influence abundance of snowshoe hares. In many instances, snowshoe hares were more abundant in late seral multi-storied forests than regenerating even-aged forests. Forest attributes predicting hare abundance were often more prevalent in multi-storied forests. Late seral multi-storied forests with a spruce–fir component and dense horizontal cover, as well as 30–70-year-old lodge-pole pine with high stem density, were disproportionately influential in explaining snowshoe hare densities in western Wyoming. In order to promote improved habitat conditions for snowshoe hares in this region, management agencies should consider shifting their focus towards maintaining, enhancing, and promoting multi-storied forests with dense horizontal cover, as well as developing 30–70-year-old lodge-pole pine stands with high stem density that structurally mimic multi-storied forests.