Herbivore Response to Alternative Forest Management Practices

We evaluated wildlife responses on a small-scale study to determine possible forest management alternatives for large-scale application on Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs). Pellet-group counts of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), elk (Cervus elaphus), and eastern cottontails (Sylvilaqus floridanus), and cervid frequency of browse use were used to determine use of oak-pine sites subjected to an array of management prescriptions including timber harvest, prescribed fire, and traditional food plots. We found that sites subjected to timber harvest were used to a greater extent than unharvested sites. Use of food plots was similar to harvested and burned sites for elk and deer but not for cottontails. Use of burned treatments was unrelated to burn frequency. Pellet-group counts and browse utilization frequency measured different aspects of habitat use and thereby treatment use. Ranks of pellet-group counts by treatments were more reflective of preferred bedding areas or screening cover, while ranks of browse utilization frequency indexed cervid foraging on a given treatment. Management for elk, deer, and rabbits in forests of southeastern Oklahoma should incorporate a mixture of commercial timber harvest using natural regeneration and clearcuts to provide cover; harvested, thinned, and burned stands to provide forage; and a mosaic of mature timber to produce mast rather than relying solely on food plots for supplemental forage.

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