Montague, N.Y. — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is working with an Adirondack college graduate student to try to figure out how well fishers and snowshoe hares are doing in the Adirondack Park.
The DEC’s staff in regions 5 and 6 are working together to look for fishers at nearly 200 sites around the Adirondacks, using bait piles and trail cameras to study what ventures out to eat, said DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist Tim Pyszczynski.
“We will get an idea where they are, and what habitat they are in,” he said.
The study will also look at how, or whether, fisher and snowshoe hare populations intersect in as many of the sites as possible, to see what relationship fisher populations have to hares, as well as what other predators come to the bait piles.
Fishers are carnivorous members of the weasel family that prey on hares and other mammals. Pyszczynski said they seem to be expanding their range in upstate New York though some indications are their population in the central Adirondacks isn’t as robust for reasons that are not clear.
The study is being done with the assistance of Shawn Cleveland, a SUNY-ESF graduate student and state ranger school professor who is working on his doctorate, according to the DEC.
The fisher survey is related to a smaller survey of snowshoe hare populations that is being done in part of the Tug Hill Plateau, which is part of the state’s “Young Forest Initiative.” The initiative is an effort to improve habitat for rabbits and seven other species including ruffed grouse, woodcock and eastern box turtles, among others.
DEC staff will be roaming throughout the winter on a remote piece of state-owned land in the town of Montague, Lewis County that is six miles from the end of the nearest plowed road, looking for the rabbits that turn white in the winter to better blend in with snow.
How do researchers count the white hares, which are the same color as their habitat? By looking for their pellet-like droppings during grid-like searches, said DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist Erik Latremore.
The optimum tracking time is after a fresh snowfall of one to two inches.
During the effort, the trackers will also look for signs of other species, such as fishers, coyotes and weasels that eat hares, Latremore said.
Included in the Young Forest Initiative will be an effort to add red spruce conifer plantings that snowshoe hares, also known as varying hares, favor in their habitat.
“Conifer cover is a key component,” Latremore said.