Why Snags (and Cavities in Living Trees) Are Important
Some grumble that dead wood is wasted wood. But before you cart off all of this material for firewood or disposal, consider leaving dead and dying trees standing.
Think about the natural causes that kill trees and leave snags scattered across the landscape: Flooding, winds, ice storms, lightning, fire, and drought cause natural mortality, as do insects, disease, and other factors. These dead trees, or dead parts of trees, do not go unused. For example, “wolf trees”—grizzled old giants riddled with multiple large cavities and nooks—are the only “condos” in the forest large enough to accommodate barred owls, pileated woodpeckers, bears, and other large species.
The case for snags
Without snags, a forest just isn’t the same for wildlife. Here are a few reasons why:
● A snag is a time-release compost stick, slowly releasing nutrients into the soil.
● Years later, a fallen snag becomes a “nurse log” where saplings find rich compost in which to grow, and where salamanders and other animals find food and shelter. (See logs.)
● Hundreds of bird species use snags to view their surroundings—watching for predators, prey, rivals, or mates.
●Snags are signal posts for displays. For example, woodpeckers drum on them to mark territories and attract mates.
● They are denning sites for large and small mammals, reptiles, amphibians.
● Snags provide roosting sites for birds and bats that are important insect predators.
● More than 80 North American bird species nest in snags.
● Insect-eating birds and mammals find food in snags.
● Cavities in snags protect denning and roosting wildlife from harsh weather.
● Woodpeckers, jays, mice, squirrels, and other wildlife use snags as food storage areas.
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