The southwestern United States has experienced expansion of conifer species (. Juniperus spp. and Pinus ponderosa) into areas of semi-arid grassland over the past century. The expansion of conifers can limit palatable forage and reduce grass and forb communities. Conifer species are sometimes thinned through hydraulic mulching or selective cutting. We assessed the effects of these treatments on mule deer (. Odocoileus hemionus) habitat in northeastern New Mexico to determine if conifer thinning improved cover of preferred forage species for mule deer in areas with and without ungulates. We measured plant cover and occurrence of preferred forage species in the summers of 2011 and 2012. An ongoing regional drought probably reduced vegetation response, with preferred forage species and herbaceous cover responding to conifer thinning or ungulate exclusion immediately following treatment, but not the following year. In 2011, areas that received thinning treatments had a higher abundance of preferred forage when compared to sites with no treatment. Grass coverage exhibited an immediate response in 2011, with ungulate exclosures containing 8% more coverage than areas without exclosures. The results suggest that conifer thinning and ungulate exclusion may elicit a positive response, however in the presence of drought; the positive effects are only short-term.
|Journal||Journal of Arid Environments|
|State||Published - 2015|