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The National Wildlife Federation

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Trees and Snags

Pileated Woodpecker: Liz Noffsinger

Dead trees provide vital habitat for more than 1,000 species of wildlife nationwide. They also count as cover and places for wildlife to raise young in the requirements for Certified Wildlife Habitat designation.

Snags - The name for dead trees that are left upright to decompose naturally.

Logs - When a snag (or part of a snag) falls on the ground, it becomes a log—also very useful for wildlife habitat.

By some estimates, the removal of dead material from forests can mean a loss of habitat for up to one-fifth of the animals in the ecosystem.

Dead Wood Good? How Dead Trees Help Wildlife

Wildlife species use nearly every part of a dead tree in every stage of its decay for things such as:

  • A Place to Live—Many animals, including birds, bats, squirrels and raccoons make nests in hollow cavities and crevices in standing deadwood.
  • A Food Source—By attracting insects, mosses, lichens and fungi, deadwood becomes a gourmet restaurant for wildlife looking for a snack.
  • A "Crow's Nest"—Higher branches of snags serve as excellent look-outs from which wildlife such as raptors spot potential prey.
  • A Hiding Place—The nooks and crannies of deadwood are put to good use by squirrels and other wildlife looking to store food.
  • A Soil Refresher—Mosses, lichens and fungi all grow on snags and aid in the return of vital nutrients to the soil through the nitrogen cycle. Decaying logs on the forest floor also act as "nurse logs" for new seedlings.

Incorporating Dead Trees into Your Habitat

You can create a refuge for hundreds of woodland creatures by keeping snags in your yard (or constructing artificial snags if no natural ones are present).

Despite the importance of snags to wildlife, many modern forestry practices encourage the removal of deadwood from the forest floor in an attempt to control pests and fungi, as well as for aesthetic reasons.

  • When should I remove a snag? Never allow dead wood to rest against your home. Also any trees that may fall on your home (or a neighbor's home) should be removed. In both these cases, however, consider moving the wood to another safer area of your yard.
  • What about termites? As long as the snags are a reasonable distance from your home, termites and other pests won't find their way into your home.
  • How do I create artificial snags? If there are no natural snags in your yard, you can create artificial ones by trimming branches on live trees of varying sizes and types. Hardwood trees tend to make better nesting habitats while softer wood is better for food foraging. If you do not wish to create snags from living trees, the use of nesting boxes can be a good alternative.
  • How many snags should I have? Three snags per acre is a good estimate for most areas, but you should check with your local wildlife management authority to get specific recommendations for your region.