Friday, December 2, 2016

The Dead on the Watershed: Our Fertile Snags

“Why are all those dead trees still here?” a Sawyer Camp Trail walker asked us as he eyed the newly restored habitat for the first time. 



Actually, you’ll see them all along the trail—snags (tall, dead and bare standing trees) that we’ve purposely left in place throughout the habitat restoration area and elsewhere in the watershed. 

In death, they are more of a natural resource than ever for an abundance of other life. Their loose bark harbors beetle, ants, and other insects that are food for birds, rodents and animals. Butterflies, bats and small animals find shelter there too.

Cavities drilled by woodpeckers become nests for swallows, flycatchers, and other “secondary cavity-nesters." With bills too small to drill their own nests, they depend on holes put there by others. Male songbirds sing out from open limbs to attract mates or declare nesting territory. Hawks and Bald eagles perch high on a snag to guard a nearby nest and watch for prey.  Trunk hollows become winter dens for raccoons, squirrels and other small animals.

Also in the restoration area, we’ve left scatterings of logs to decay where they are for the same reasons. As the wood decomposes, its nutrients mix into the soil, making it more fertile for healthy new plants.
Insects, salamanders, snakes, and mice take shelter in the rotting logs, and they in turn are prey for other, larger species. During the rains, the damp rotting wood and leaves give rise to mushrooms and other fungi. And the mushrooms are food for everything else—from insects to mammals--including deer in severe winters when other foraging is scarce.

In short, that dead wood provides more sustenance for the neighborhood wild than it did in life.

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