Management of young forests is not often considered in conservation plans, but young forests provide habitat for some species of conservation concern. Snowshoe hares (Lepus americanus), critical prey of forest carnivores including the United States federally threatened Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis), can be abundant in young montane and subalpine forests with densely spaced saplings and shrub cover. Precommercial thinning (PCT) is a silvicultural technique that reduces sapling and shrub density on young forest stands. We tested for effects of PCT on snowshoe hare abundance for 2 years after experimental treatment at 3 replicate study areas. We also tested the effectiveness of a precommercial thinning with reserves (PCT-R) prescription, where 20% of the total stand was retained in uncut quarter-hectare patches. All stands were in montane–subalpine coniferous forests of western Montana, USA, where there is a persistent population of Canada lynx. Posttreatment changes in abundance were strongly negative on stands treated with standard PCT prescriptions (100% of the stand was treated), relative to both controls and stands treated with PCT-R. Trapping, snowtrack, and winter fecal-pellet indices indicated that snowshoe hares used the quarter-ha retention patches more than thinned portions of the PCT-R-treated stands in winter. We suggest that managing forest landscapes for high snowshoe hare abundance will require adoption of silvicultural techniques like PCT-R for stands that will be thinned, in addition to conservation of structurally valuable early and late-successional forest stands.
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Vol. 71 • No. 2