by Carole Jorgensen
Before you remove or burn those dead trees or brush piles, think about the critters that live there. Dead wood (standing and down dead trees and logs, bark, stumps and roots) creates a complex community storing carbon, moisture, invertebrates and fungi. Primary excavators such as woodpeckers, create cavities for nesting and feeding and dozens of other birds (and other wildlife) reuse the created cavities and dead wood (such as ducks, geese, warblers, Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed Juncos, owls, nuthatches, sparrows and wrens).
Up to twenty thousand species of plants, animals and microbes can live in one dead log. Thomas (1987) in the Blue Mountains of Oregon found 57 percent of the of the 175 vertebrate species found there used dead wood. Bunnell and others (1997) found that that 25 percent of British Columbia vertebrates used cavities. Missoula ornithologist Erick Greene documented 9 species of birds using one dead tree at one time (House Wren, a bluebird, near the top there’s an American Kestrel, a Tree Swallow, a Black-capped Chickadee, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and White-breasted Nuthatch).
Dead wood not only provides housing, but also the grocery store. Those small brush piles also provide habitat for insects and food for our feathered friends (as well as other critters). Those woodpiles can provide cover in bad weather and protection from predators. In addition to vertebrates, dead wood is valuable to our native bees for nesting and overwintering. Recently the Flathead County landfill stopped recycling wood and brush. Creating a few dead wood patches in your yard or property can save you money, and provide some nice condominiums for our native friends. The Montana Wildlife Gardener offers a few tips on how you can build your own biodiversity villages and store some carbon at the same time (http://montanawildlifegardener.blogspot.com/2009/04/build-brush-pile-for-wildlife.html)
Are you concerned that leaving dead wood and insects on your property is a risk? Not so much as it turns out. Check out (http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/treetopics/2013/04/27/bugs-the-good-and-bad-dead-wood-revisited/)
Most insects are not forest health risks. For example, in western Oregon, the Douglas-fir beetle (the “baddest” dead wood-inhabiting insect) only thrives in freshly dead or downed trees. Once the snag or downed wood has been dead for more than a year, it is no longer a target. Instead, it will become inhabited by the dozens of “good” bugs that feed the myriad of wildlife.
There needs to be a LOT of this fresh down wood to pose a forest health risk– like after a storm. According to Oregon Department of Forestry, a good rule of thumb is that fewer than 3 fresh down logs/acre does not present a hazard.