Improving the Quality of Our Urban Forest

Trees provide critical habitat for many important wildlife species that are beneficial to us and the ecosystem around us, and living trees aren’t the only trees that provide habitat. In fact, research suggests that standing dead trees (known as snags) are more valuable as wildlife habitat than live trees, in part because the wildlife can live in the snag as well as feed on the insects and fungi in the snag. Snags provide essential habitat for wildlife, decomposers, and other important parts of the ecosystem that keep pests and disease in check.

Safety is always our priority, which is why we use a specific strategy when creating a wildlife snag. Carving the top of the stem so it isn’t flat not only makes it look more natural to wildlife, but it also increases water retention and surface area, promoting decay. The increased water and surface area makes the top of the stem decay faster than the bottom, so the tree essentially “melts” over time, instead of falling over. In some cases, creating a snag is not a suitable option due to safety risks, but these are uncommon and there are usually good alternatives.

More reasons to leave a habitat snag when removing a tree:

Keep Pests in Check

Insect-eating birds and mammals will be attracted to the snag to nest and find mates. Without this nearby habitat, they are unable to reproduce and keep population densities high enough to prevent insect invasions.

Good for Your Soil

A snag is a time-release compost stick. Fungi slowly release nutrients into the soil as they decompose the tree. Decaying logs retain moisture and nutrients that promote beneficial soil organisms like earthworms.

Lower Cost than Removal

Leaving part of the tree standing usually means less work and lower cost.

Get the Same Benefits of Removing the Tree

Common reasons people choose to remove a tree include wanting more light, afraid of the tree falling, tree roots destroying their lawn or driveway, or there are too many leaves to rake up. While the benefits of your tree usually outweigh most of these problems, leaving a snag will still provide relief from them.

Better Bird Watching

Having a decaying snag with cavities and insects is like putting up bird houses and bird feeders. Over 80 species of North American birds nest in cavities and they will be drawn to your yard.

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