The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has embarked on research to determine why the snowshoe hare population is declining in Michigan. The mild winter in particular has conservationists fearing for their numbers, as the hare fares better in snowy conditions.

Adam Bump is the bear and furbearer specialist for the Michigan DNR and is one of the researchers on the team studying the snowshoe hare. “What we have is a long-term trend in harvest,” Bump said, “I talk to people who hunt snowshoes that say they’re not finding them.” Snowshoe hare is hunted in Michigan, but there has been a decline in the number of harvested hares which also is due in part to less hunters pursuing the animal.

Now researchers are looking at habitat changes and how that’s possibly affecting the hare. Bump said, “One thing that’s hard to answer is ‘if there is climate change occurring – changes in snow or temperature – is that one thing affecting population?'” The DNR is looking into what they can do from a management perspective.

Snowshoe hares are one of the animals that may be adversely affected by the mild winter. Bump said they are biologically adapted for snow. Their feet are larger than cottontail rabbits and they turn color in the winter. They are a light brown during the summer and turn completely white with black tips on their ears in the winter. All this and their thick winter coat adapts them well to the winter. “If you can imagine a snowshoe hare with no snow, they’re going to stick out like a sore thumb and be easy for predators to pick off,” said Bump. While they will exist without snow, warm winter conditions are not great for the population.

The snowshoe hare’s habitat ranges mostly from across the Canadian provinces with a big population in Alaska and some in the northern United States. In Michigan they are mostly found in the northern half of the lower peninsula.

Photo: Jacob W. Frank/NPS

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4 thoughts on “Michigan Researchers Study Decline in Snowshoe Hare Population

  1. I would think Michigans’s Upper Peninsula would have the greatest hare populations. I always thought that populations were cyclical but I’m not certain what impacts the cycles?

  2. Seventeen years in the Eastern UP…… and my personal experience bears out what Bump says in that the greater population of Snowshoes is below the bridge (where the Trolls live).  Cottontails are plentiful in the Eastern UP and there’s no greater hunting than taking a few bunnies, Woodcock (Timberdoodles) and Ruffed Grouse all in the same day…..what a great Thanksgiving meal they make……

  3. Funny that in one column, you read about the Wolf population soaring in Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin, and the Snowshoe, and Moose populations declining in another column. Let’s see here. The wolf populations (which you could add probably 10% to minimum) are on the rise, and this year, there may not be a Moose season in MN ? Sounds like the wolf/tree hugging, anti hunters are winning? Oh, I forgot about the Mountain Lions that don’t live in Michigan as well? DNR…Who owns them?

  4. 30 years ago there was more hares in mid michigan than could be counted. Today if you can find a hare track its advisable to take a picture. But it is nothing to see owls,
    hawks, fox, coyote, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, weasles, mink, coon, and whatever other kind of predetor you can think of what do you think ? should we protect some more predetor species? I think that the hunters of the state of michigan
    Im not saying that everybody that picks up a gun is a hunter but the ones that are the sportsmen shoul have the say as to how many deer, turkey, bear, hares, birds of all kinds, should be taken in any area of the state as it is we the people are the State of Michigan its not a bunch of desk sitting pencil pushing peole in Lansing that has never even been in the woods except for when they were in school.

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