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Recovery time of snowshoe hare habitat after commercial thinning in boreal Quebec

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As short-term effects of partial cuts generally decrease available cover for snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus Erxleben), most studies have shown negative effects of such treatments on this keystone species in boreal ecosystems. This study aims to determine the long-term impact of commercial thinning on snowshoe hare habitat, and we hypothesized that habitat quality, as well as habitat use, recovers with time since treatment. We selected stands aged 50–90 years dominated by black spruce (Picea mariana (Mill.) Britton, Sterns & Poggenb.) in Abitibi (Quebec). We used models of habitat parameters to explain the abundance of snowshoe hare tracks and pellets in 20 commercially thinned stands treated between 1989 and 1999 and 12 control stands. Lateral cover was the dominant parameter influencing snowshoe hare habitat use. On average, commercially thinned stands had a lower lateral cover than controls (–18%). We also found that snowshoe hare use of commercially thinned stands increases with time since treatment. However, 11–18 years are needed before commercially thinned stands return to the same level of lateral cover and snowshoe hare signs as control stands. Commercial thinning is generally followed by harvesting all merchantable stems 15 years after treatment. Thus, we suggest that commercial thinning as currently practiced should be avoided if the objective is to maintain quality habitat for snowshoe hare and its associated predators.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Chaire industrielle CRSNG-UQAT-UQAM en aménagement forestier durable et Centre d’étude de la Forêt, Département des sciences appliquées, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Centre d’Amos, 341 Principale Nord, Amos, QC J9T 2L8, Canada. 2: Centre d’étude de la forêt, Département des sciences appliquées, Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue, 445, boulevard de l’Université, Rouyn-Noranda, QC J9X 5E4, Canada.

Publication date: 2012-01-30

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