I cannot believe I am stepping outside to green grass and lawnmowers running in December. Sure, I’m still scraping ice off my windshield occasionally, but I have yet to break out the winter coat. It feels like we’ve skipped winter and jumped right into spring already. Does Michigan’s wildlife enjoy these warmer winter temperatures and low precipitation as much as some of us might be?
While it’s nice to not deal with shoveling snow at the moment, these warmer temperatures may not sit so well with certain wildlife species. One species that has declined from these winters is the snowshoe hare. DNR wildlife biologist Brian Piccolo stated "Unfortunately, snowshoe hare populations have steadily declined over the past few decades, and research suggests that this decline is due partially to shorter winters and less snow cover due to climate change."
One would think that a milder winter would benefit wildlife populations, rather than these past few very cold winters. However, species such as the snowshoe hare have an adaptation that changes the color of their fur to better match their surroundings. This means that their brownish-cinnamon colored fur in the summer will molt, or grow new white fur, in the winter. With a lack of snow, their white fur stands out to predators, making them an easy target.
Since we can’t control the climate, one way we can help the declining snowshoe hare population is to provide better cover in their habitat. MUCC volunteers completed an on the ground project in the Grayling State Forest last January to improve snowshoe hare habitat. Volunteers instructed by DNR Wildlife Biologist Brian Piccolo and Wildlife Technician Tim Riley hinge-cut 230 balsam firs and other conifers. Just three weeks after the event, Piccolo reported that the new cover was being heavily utilized by snowshoe hare!
This hinge-cutting project will be hosted again in the Grayling State Forest on a date TBD in January 2016. Also in January will be a Chainsaw Safety Course taught by Chuck Olsund of Bay College. See more details here and RSVP to attend the free safety course. This course will go over safety systems and proper tree felling techniques that are essential for the success of many of the on the ground habitat projects! Hinge-cuts not only benefit snowshoe hare, but also white-tailed deer benefit low-lying cover and the easy-to-reach browse created.