Distribution and Status of the Snowshoe Hare in West Virginia
Air Quality, Environmental Process
Research Idea Scope
The United States Forest Service (USFS) has recognized the snowshoe hare is an indicator species for habitat management. Occupying the southern tip of its range, the snowshoe hare is located in West Virginia above 3,000 feet in elevation and is restricted to spruce and northern hardwood forests. Because the snowshoe hare depends upon snowfall for winter survival, global warming trends can have devastating effects upon its range. Currently, the extent of its range and density in West Virginia is unknown.
This project proposes to document the current range and distribution of snowshoe hare habitat and potential climatic effects upon their distribution in West Virginia. The basic study design involves surveying areas with known snowshoe hare occurrence, then estimate population density and measure a list of known habitat variables critical to their existence. A Geographic Information System (GIS) will then be used to extrapolate potential areas of occurrence using a multivariate approach base on results of known snowshoe hare locations. These potential areas of occurrence will be surveyed for the presence of snowshoe hare.
To evaluate the effect of climate change upon snowshoe hare distribution, historical weather parameters purchased from repositories will be included as interest variables to define snowshoe hare habitat. Snowshoe hare distribution from historical studies will be compared to currently identified population locales and evaluated if climate change has altered distribution, i.e., has temperature, snowfall, etc. changed that limits/alters populations of snowshoe hare.
Urgency and Payoff
Benefits of this study include: Documentation of snowshoe hare populations in the southern most range. Results from this study can be a valuable benchmark to observe the effects of global warming trends on various wildlife populations by comparing population densities from past, present and future studies. Additionally, this study will identify habitat conditions best suitable for snowshoe hares in the southern tip of its range. Understanding preferred habitat site conditions, managers can prescribe habitat improvements to enhance survival and expansion of snowshoe hare populations.
Randy Tucker, West Virginia Division of Natural Resources