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Impact of hunting on snowshoe hare populations in Newfoundland Joyce, Tammy Lee


Snowshoe hares were introduced to Newfoundland between 1864 and 1876 to provide food and hunting opportunities. At that time, Newfoundland, an island, had no small game species. Today, snowshoe hares are still mainly hunted for food, particularly in rural areas. Harvest management for snowshoe hare has changed very little in Newfoundland since it started in 1879, with unlimited harvest allowed from October to February each year. Snowshoe hares were in low numbers in Newfoundland from 1979 to 1995, and many hunters believed that the unlimited harvest was depleting the hare populations. Monitoring the effects of harvesting on snowshoe hare abundance is an arduous task, requiring monitoring effort throughout an entire hare cycle. I developed a modified, Lotka-Volterra predator-prey model to help with this task. Model parameter values were taken from the Kluane Boreal Forest Ecosystem Study. Harvesting applied to the model was derived from Newfoundland harvest statistics for 1965 to 1999. Harvesting lengthened the cycle period, which was directly related to the proportion of the population harvested at a cyclic low. Model parameters were tested for sensitivity. Changes to snowshoe hare abundance within a hunting season were monitored using mark-recapture techniques. I live-trapped hares through a hunting season on two control (non-hunted) and two hunted grids from September 1999 to March 2000 during a cyclic peak. Population estimates were calculated using a Jackknife estimator (CAPTURE). Substantial declines were seen between September and January in both hunted areas, 46% and 77% of the fall populations, while the control areas remained stable at 91% and 98%. There was some recovery in the population following the end of harvesting that is unlikely to be due to immigration. Abrams' (1993) theory of adaptive antipredator behavior was discussed. Both hunted populations recovered from harvesting by the following fall. Declines in population estimates of September 2001 compared to September 2000 indicated that the population was entering a cyclic decline. Population estimates based on fecal pellet counts can be used as a cheaper alternative to live-trapping for monitoring snowshoe hare populations. For pellet counts in the Newfoundland forest, I found that the most efficient plot shape of those tested was a 10x150 cm rectangle. Pellets remained intact for at least 1 year but disappeared into the moss when it was the main ground cover. Management of snowshoe hares should include a regular monitoring program through extensive fecal pellet counts that have been calibrated to live trapping efforts. At times of population lows in the snowshoe hare cycle, harvesting should be reduced.

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