Herbicides, commonly used for vegetation management in intensively managed pine (Pinus spp.) forests of the southeastern United States, with and without fire, may alter availability of quality forage for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus; deer), an economically and socially important game species in North America. Because greater forage quality yields greater deer growth and productivity and intensively managed pine forests are common in the southeastern United States, forest managers would benefit from an understanding of fire and herbicide effects on forage availability to improve habitat conditions for deer. Therefore, we evaluated independent and combined effects of fire and herbicide (i.e., imazapyr) on forage biomass and deer nutritional carrying capacity (CC) on land owned and managed by Weyerhaeuser NR Company in east-central Mississippi, USA. We used a randomized complete block design of 6 pine plantations (blocks) divided into 4 10-ha treatment plots to each of which we randomly assigned a treatment (burn-only, herbicide-only, burn herbicide, and control). We estimated biomass (kg/ha) of moderate- and high-use deer forage plants during July of 1999–2008, then estimated CC for diets to support either body maintenance (6% crude protein) or lactation (14% crude protein) with a nutritional constraints model. Herbaceous forages responded positively to fire and herbicide application. In most years, CC estimates for maintenance and lactation were greater in burn herbicide than in controls. Maintenance-level CC was always greater in burn herbicide than in controls, except at 1 year posttreatment. Burn herbicide was 2.6–8.3 times greater (x ¯ = 4.0) than control for lactation-level CC in 8 of 9 years posttreatment. We recommend fire and selective herbicides to increase high-quality deer forage in mid-rotation, intensively managed pine plantations.
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Vol. 74 • No. 5