Snags for Good Health

An old forest snag:            Something to Cherish? Photo by Marian Blue

Snags abound in healthy forests.

 

 

Hazardous.

Dead.

Ugly.

And

Something to Cherish?

Today, many landowners cherish snags and, if none are present, create them by topping or even girdling trees.

Why would you want to keep this possibly dangerous eyesore on your property, much less create one?

Wildlife Habitat

According to the National Wildlife Federation, about 1,000 different species, nationwide, use snags. These uses are varied and essential.

  1. Home

            Birds, mammals, insects, and even amphibians settle in these quarters. Pileated woodpeckers and other related species (known as primary cavity dwellers) create new cavities for their nests each year; snags provide softer and drier wood to carve away.

A toppled snag revealed a former nesting cavity, smoothed and enlarged with use. Photo by Marian Blue

Woodpeckers also create cavities when seeking insects that are attracted to the dead/dying snags as seen in the snag photo above.

Other critters (known as secondary cavity dwellers) include owls, raccoons, chickadees, squirrels, nuthatches, and others who often call them home as well as a dinner resource Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Snags, in essence, are a foundation for good wildlife habitat.

Snags provide lush growth with abundant food supplies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Food for plants and animals.

Snags grow fungi, moss and even plants. These gardens attract insects.

Although you wouldn’t want to share your home with them, insects attract a wide variety of insect-eating critters (birds, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals) and are essential to good wildlife habitat. The pacific tree frog, for instance, eats a variety of items, including moss, decaying vegetation, and insects. Raccoons, owls, and snakes eat frogs. A variety of other creatures also eat tadpoles and frog eggs. Thus, from moss to raptors, snags grow a habitat that suits many.

Good snags mean a healthy forest.

Many kinds of fungi love snags. Critters love fungi. Photo from Interpretative Guide to Western Northwest Weather Forecasts.

Predators find snags useful for lookout perches and even dining tables. Photo by Marian Blue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Hiding

This cedar log has hollowed out, providing a hiding hole, food (moss), and a bounty of bugs and shelter underneath. Meanwhile, it’s providing a place for new growth. Photo by Marian Blue

Ducking for cover preserves the life of many small birds, squirrels, and other critters.

Snags provide look-out perches for predators, such as raptors, too.

Snags provide places to hide both when standing and after falling. The job of a snag extends beyond life, beyond falling, and even beyond decaying; nutriments that build soil occur as mosses and fungi break down the wood.

Forest soil usually becomes rich very slowly, so each fallen log, branch, and leaf is valuable. In addition, logs often become nurse logs for the forest’s next generation of trees. If you see, for instance, a line of hemlocks, they likely began their lives along a fallen log.

This old stump has grown a garden that includes salal, huckleberry, ferns, and a hemlock. Photo by Marian Blue

A hemlock got its start on a stump; now it appears long-legged as the stump rots away beneath it. Photo by Marian Blue

 

How Many?

The number of snags for your property depends on both the diameter and the type of tree. A general number is three snags of 12” diameter and one of 15” diameter per acre. In addition, at least 4 downed logs per acre helps to ensure a healthy habitat. More specific details and information, including use of habitat brush piles, are abundant online. This site is specifically for the northwest but includes other resources (Northwest Natural Resource Group). In some cases, landowners can find financial assistance in creating wildlife habitat (and corridors) on their property. A healthy environment benefits people and animals alike.

Make Your Own

If your property lacks adequate snags, you can make your own. A wide variety of ways of doing this is found at Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife . By killing some trees to create snags, you can improve the health of your property for both flora and fauna!

Bad Snag

Snags are a natural resource for a healthy forest ecosystem. Photo by Marian Blue

Snags aren’t static. You don’t want a large snag next to your home or other structure.

In addition, because they attract insects, you don’t want snags where you’re combating insect invasions (next to your home, for instance).

Beautiful Snag

Beauty comes from understanding. Once you appreciate a snag’s value as a contributor to a healthy ecosystem, you can see the beauty in the same way animals do when looking for a new home or a good meal.

 

Next Month: Nature Writing

 

Wildlife Corridors–Living in Harmony with Wildlife

Losing Your World

Imagine this as your front yard.

Imagine walking out your front door, perhaps to go to work or shopping, only to discover that all roads, sidewalks, and paths have vanished. Trees are growing where roadways should be, where you were cursing chuckholes the day before. Creeks are chuckling along, gleefully replacing bridges and culverts. Bogs and rocks and fallen trees have taken the place of mowed parks and groomed yards. You can’t tell where your yard ends and a neighbor’s yard begins.

Through determination and ingenuity, you find your way to a grocery store, but a big gate is across the doors. If you figure out how to get through the gate, you find that individuals start shouting and shooting at you. The world you and your family have known is gone.

Saving and Building Environments

Wildlife faces challenges daily very similar to the above idea.

Humans often develop their nests by destroying the preexisting environment.

Suppose the above woods went to this overnight? Image from South Whidbey Record

They mow down wildlife’s homes and food sources to pave roads, sidewalks, and parking lots. Wild places of safety are replaced with groomed yards full of hazards: domestic animals, poisons, dead ends at gates and fences.

Desperate to protect their nonnative bushes, trees, and pets, people use poison, hunting seasons, traps, and other lethal measures to eliminate hungry and homeless wildlife.

Even if these animals are only trying to travel from one native food or water source to another, their routes are turned into deadly mazes of highways, fences, and bare landscapes where they and their young are vulnerable to death or injury.

You have a choice

Such situations aren’t inevitable. Each person can do something about the conundrum of living harmoniously with wildlife, which, it turns out, we need to do to maintain the healthy environment, including air and water, that humans also need to survive.

Conserving Natural Environments Harmoniously

  1. Support the idea of intelligent planning on the part of your neighborhood, town,

    Planning green areas improves water and air quality for all life. (Image from SmartCitiesDive)

    county, and state. Make sure development includes corridors of easy travel for wildlife from one natural area (parks, streams, beaches) to another. Help make every park connected to every other park with areas of native trees, bushes, and free-flowing streams. These are areas where snags provide food, places to hide, and nesting spots for birds and small mammals; where brush provides shelter with berries and insects; where fallen debris creates brush piles where animals can hide. If roads are nearby, control where these corridors cross; animals will use safer areas. This protects both wildlife and humans. Tunnels, overpasses, and high fences funneling to crossing spots also help. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Corridors and New York Times article, May 31, 2021:Wildlife animal crossings provide more information.
  2. Plan yards that fit with the environment. You can plant native plants and trees for both beauty and for wildlife habitat. This can be designed to fit within the area’s corridor plans. If you want exotic plants or if you want to raise vegetables, fence them securely. If you plant within an animal’s home and then spread a tempting buffet, you can expect them to try it out. Keep poultry and other small animals secure as well.

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Animals feel safe when they know they can escape into wooded areas. This corridor passes between homes and pastures.
Deer, coyotes, and many other animals and birds use this forested corridor between Glendale Creek and Holst Road on South Whidbey Island.

 

Summary

Problems with wildlife are usually the result of human behavior within the environment. People can live in harmony with their environment and wild creatures. Think ahead. Plan wisely. Relish the world around you and think about how to preserve it for all life.

You’ll find many resources online about living in harmony, about helping to create a healthier environment for all life. Natural Habitat Adventure Travel (in conjunction with World Wildlife Fund) is a fun way to start learning about living with wildlife. Check on this and other videos: Daily Dose of Nature Webinars. This is also an important resource for living harmoniously with wildlife: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Next blog: Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about snags (http://sunbreakpress.com/2021/09/05/snags-for-healthy-habitat/)