Hare and Grouse Population Cycles
I thought this might make an interesting thread.
I know that we all know that small game populations are cyclical in nature and alternate at 10 year periods, but I am curious to hear some opinions on when these 10 year peaks occur, do they differ by region, does increased hunting pressure seem to delay these cycles, and what signs do you look for to tell if the peak is starting, in the middle or ending.
The adn newspaper wrote an article last year stating that the hare cycle reached its peak already and was on the decline. However, although I have been seeing lots of hare out on the flats and down the glen highway, I have not seen much sign of hare in the marginal areas. I have heard of an increase in lynx, which is usually a good indicator, but I still have not seen the hare return into the zones of marginal habitat on the outskirts of their range.
I am really curious to hear the opinion of some of the veterans out there who have lived long enough to see more than just 2 or 3 of these cycles take place. A guess my question is, are we really seeing the peak, or is there more to come?
Well, this is the sort of topic that has been debated for many decades, but here's what I know, albeit, only a brief comment on a very complex issue.
Don't know where you're at, but south of the Alaska Range/Talkeetna Mountains where the ruffed grouse was not naturally found and had to be transplanted, there is currently no clear indication of any sort of cycle. Interesting, to say the least, and much like it is in the Appalachian range of the southern US.
Up north in Alaska's great interior region, the grouse cycle is somewhere around 7 to 10 years. But nothing to do with wildlife is "written in stone" and not all grouse always recieve the special e-mails telling them to disappear. Even in some low cycle years there are pockets of considerable numbers of ruffed grouse and sharp-tailed grouse. The snowshoe hare is reportedly on the decline and in the next few years we should see a rise in the grouse population, but there are still lots of predators out there and if they make lots of little predators this spring it will certainly retard the rise in grouse numbers. Raptors, loss of habitat, and maturing habitat are the biggest reasons for grouse mortality in my humble opinion.
I could go on, but I'll shut up for awhile and read what others have to say on the matter.
As far as hare go, they may be declining in one area of the state and building in another. Alaska is a big place and varies tremendously regionally. Southcentral and the interior have always been out of sync. I can tell you that soucentral is very close to peaking maybe this next season. The Kenai Pennisula typically cycles at about a 12 year interval and is still building.
appreciate the perspective and generally concur though I respectfully disagree with the statement in bold.
Originally Posted by OATS
southcentral AK is also a huge place with game populations varying tremendously regionally. many locations may be close to peaking, but i suspect many locations are lagging behind or ahead of a percieved peak.
In much of my "backyard" hares are quite scant this winter, a substantial decline from last year which was a substantial decline from the year before, which i would call the recent peak year (2008). That said, 10-15 miles west of my location, in similar Talkeetna mtns. foothills, the hare population is substantial, seems near a peak, with similar findings in locations in the upper mat valley.
But I know of multiple nearby regions with ample browse where the hares simply haven't been this winter. Can only speculate really. but who knows in a year or two...
I have read quite a bit of scientific literature on small game cycles and concluded that any attempt to specify a number of years for a fixed cycle to be applied as a general rule is ludicrous. obviously there are general trends that can be described (especially for specific regions) but i definitely shy away from the notion of a fixed number of years.
throw one trapper in the mix, systematically removing fox and lynx from an area for a season or two and hare populations grow dramatically in that locality, provided that there is ample snowcover and browse. of course there are raptors to account for, coyotes too, which can range long distances and exploit a specific area with low snow cover, for example.
throw wildfire into the mix, where a severe fire has much different implications for habitat compared to a spotty, low temperature fire. or an area with long-term fire supression...
i think for the most part the concept of a fixed cycle is hooey, in that if you thoroughly describe it and all the complex variables you realize it is not much of a repeating cycle at all.
obviously has some merit, but taken with many grains of salt. and in areas which are substantially influenced by humans I think the concept is virtually moot as the human predation (on prey and predators) and habitat modification is probably far more influential than a 10 year cycle.
not trying to kill the conversation....just throwing my perspective out. curious to hear others' experiences.
With quail in AZ we always worried about whether there was enough rain and if it came at the right time (not soon after the chicks hatched). I've always felt that the weather had the most impact on populations. And micro-climates (specific to a small area) would explain the regional difference. There's my 2 cents...
Ive found the former to be true also,some areas are declining while others are in full cycle. Ive been on 3 day "rabbit safaris" on the Tok cutoff when supposedly the population was on the decline and you could have limited out everyday if you wanted. I guess theres not alot of hunting pressure there in march , but still,it was awesome. I was out this fall along the glenn past Long lake and the numbers were crazy. But there was no snow and the rabbits were white,felt sorry for them.We took 14 and let others live another day.
Great comments, keep em coming
This is great. This is exactly what I was looking for. Not the textbook 10 year cycle answers, but what exactly have been the observations of the people who are out there year after year and have seen the repeated cycles. I too have noticed anomolies in the textbook 10 cycles. I used to see plenty of rabbits in the area around my house, which is more of a mixed hardwood spruce and birch habitat. As opposed to the typical Alder/Willow shrub habitat which is more favorable to the snowshoe. I have not seen snowshoe hare around my house for at least 5 years, maybe more. I was kind of expecting to see more of them since the overall state seems to be peaking in numbers, but I tend to agree that their might be too many factors in the mix to try to assign one general trend to the entire state. But I will be interested to hear what other people have to say.
Originally Posted by andweav