Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts often wonder what purpose is served by leaving dead trees in the forests or local parks, instead of tree removal. Surely it is okay to give nature a helping hand and remove rotting logs and trees from hiking trails and picnic areas. But conservationists are loath to do so because, while they may not be the most attractive features of the forest, dead trees and logs are essential to the health and ultimate survival of our forests and natural ecosystems.
While the trees themselves may have died, their remains are teeming with life and from an ecological standpoint, this is critical to the long-term health of the forest ecosystem. As the giant logs decompose, aided by fungi, bacteria, insects and various small animals, they return nutrients to the soil, become mulch for the forest floor, provide homes for an abundance of wildlife and play a pivotal role in the survival of new plants. Many species of lichen live on dead trees and some are even dead tree obligates, meaning they cannot survive elsewhere. Rotting trees and logs are a necessary component of forest life and the lifecycle of hundreds of species of plants, insects, birds, and animals.
A Necessity for Any Forest
Many small animals and reptiles like squirrels, mice, raccoons, snakes, salamanders, and opossums find ideal nesting sites and sources of food in dead logs and trees. Rotting logs make great homes for a multitude of insects, including ants and ants, in turn, are a good source of food for grizzly bears. Dead trees are like fast food restaurants for grizzlies and in many forests, hikers will often find clear evidence of grizzly bear activity and logs that have been ripped apart to gain access to the delicious feast of ants inside.
A Haven for Birds
It is common knowledge that woodpeckers depend on dead trees for food and shelter, but they are not the only ones. 45% of all bird species depend on trees and logs in one way or another during their lifespan. Some birds nest in dead tree cavities, while others find food concealed in the rotting bark. Eagles, hawks, and owls use dead branches as vantage points from which to spot potential prey and birds that catch flying insects out the sky use dead trees as sites from which to launch their attacks. Even bats can roost in the flaky bark of rotting trees.
Dead Trees Protect the Environment
But it is not just wildlife that benefits from the dead trees that litter the forest floor. Dead trees and logs also play an important role in the physical well-being of the forest. Dead trees create snow barriers, slowing down and trapping fast moving snow and preventing it from damaging the forest floor. As the trapped snow melts it saturates the ground allowing young trees and plants to flourish.
Dead trees that topple over into streams stabilize the banks and slow down the flow of water, helping to reduce erosion and providing feeding and breeding sites for fish. As any fisherman will tell you, where there are logs in the water, there are insects, birds, and fish.
Dead trees and logs are an integral and necessary part of the life force of the forest but dead trees on your property can be a problem, especially if they are close to any buildings. If you have dead trees on your property it is best to call in a professional tree removal service, like Martin’s Tree Service to assess the tree thoroughly and make a decision about tree removal only if necessary.