Snag trees and healthy ecosystems
Snags and dead trees provide many benefits to wildlife and forests.
How is a dead tree good?
Standing dead trees, called snags, provide birds and mammals with shelter to raise young and raptors with unobstructed vantage points.
As forest ecologist Jerry Franklin, likes to say: "A dead tree is more alive than a live tree." Alive with critters from large to small, that is! Or as the Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife notes, "Dead wood brings new life."
Hundreds of native birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and nearly all fish – because of the beneficial effect of snags on watersheds – benefit from snags for food, nesting, or shelter.
Only 30 bird species are capable of making their own nest cavities in trees. The pileated woodpecker is a famous example. Another 80 animal species – like fishers – depend upon previously excavated or natural tree holes for their nests.Some, like wolverines, count on deep drifts piled around natural obstructions like dead tree trunks to dig their deep dens in winter.
The insulation of a tree trunk home allows wildlife to survive high summer and low winter temperature extremes.
Tree cavities and loose bark are used by many animals to store their food supplies. And insects living in dead wood eat thousands of forest pests which can harm living trees.
Fish and amphibians hide under trees that have fallen into the water.
Woodpeckers and creepers feast on the wood-eating insects and provide "sawdust" for ants to process. Deer and mountain caribou eat the lichen growing on the trunks.
Whether created through natural processes or active forest restoration, standing and down dead wood play an important role on the landscape.
Conservation Northwest is working with partners to increase awareness of the importance of snags, and ensure that forest management policies on our public lands protect the values the offer. Currently in Washington just two national forests allow the felling of snags on portions of their lands by firewood gatherers, campers, and hunters unless there are active cavity nests in the tree - the UMATALILLA TOO Okanogan-Wenatchee and Colville National Forests (click here to see a map of acreage open to snag felling in Washington).
Due to this policy and a lack of enforcement capacity, researchers have documented not only the continued loss of snags on the landscape but the removal of trees providing home to wildlife such as the black-backed woodpecker, white-headed woodpecker, Pileated woodpecker, Lewis' woodpecker, and American three-toed woodpecker. While there is important social and economic value to firewood gathering and recreation on these national forests (and often some ecological benefit from firewood removal of small fuels), the removal of standing and down dead wood should not be allowed due to their high value on the landscape. Removal of any standing dead wood posing a risk to public safety, such as snags at risk of falling onto a roadway, is best conducted by the land management agency. Join us in asking the Regional Forest to focus firewood removal on live trees that complement restoration and public safety needs on these two national forests, and change policy to protect snags by signing this petition.
- "A Time for Change: A Review of US Forest Service Policies on Snag Cutting and Its Impacts on Cavity-nesting Species in Eastern Washington". A poster presentation by Jeff Kozma (Yakama Nation) and Teresa Lorenz (WDFW).
- Snags - The Wildlife Tree. Webpage on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
- US Forest Service Region 6 webpage on the value of snags