Monday, January 18, 2021

Keep Standing Dead Trees in your Woodlot

Some of the most important trees in your woodlot are the ones that are no longer alive. Large, standing dead or dying trees—called snags—are an important part of healthy forests and a critical habitat feature for wildlife. They provide places for many birds and mammals to forage, den, nest, perch, and roost. Snags are very important for cavity-nesting birds like woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees; for bats that roost within cavities, crevices, and flaky bark; and for countless species that rely on insects, fungi, and lichens as a food source. As long as they aren’t in a hazardous location such as near a road or building, consider leaving snags for wildlife.

In woodlands where snags are sparse or absent, it’s possible to create a few by topping, girdling, or simply leaving several mature trees as legacy trees that may become snags in the future.

Biologists recommend having at least three large snags (>12” diameter) per acre to benefit wildlife. These stately spires also add structural complexity, provide an element of visual interest, store carbon, reflect a forest stand’s past, and will enrich soils in the future.

Photo by Katherine Yard.

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Information attributed to NYSDEC is taken from press releases and news announcements from New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation.


11 Responses

  1. Ryan Finnigan says:

    I really appreciate the sentiment expressed here by the DEC. However, I can’t help but think that the “young forest initiative” being carried out on WMA’s runs counter to the concept of retaining and developing large standing snags for the benefit of wildlife. Patch clearcuts to create young forest by definition eliminate standing dead trees in the near term and eliminate the possibility of any developing in the medium to long term. After a clearcut, it will take many decades, if not more than century, for trees to grow large enough and then die to create the habitat so valued by the myriad of species that depend on large snags as expressed in this article.

    • Boreas says:


      Managing WMAs is different than allowing natural processes to occur in the Forest Preserve. WMAs are ultimately designed and managed to benefit game species and to provide hunting opportunities. The clearcuts benefit some species to the detriment of others. A WMA near me recently bush-hogged the clearings they made about 10 years ago, eliminating all saplings and bushes less than 10 years old.

      • Balian the Cat says:


        It’s almost as though nature does a better job of managing itself than we humans do…who knew?

        • Boreas says:


          Yeah…management is anathema to wild. Mother Nature has a much better track record than Homo sapiens. She would probably be the first to admit humans were an experiment gone awry.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Indeed I have heard this before! But what about snags that we’re killed by invasives? My folks lost a bunch of
    trees last year to the ash borer and we’re advised to chop them down to limit spread. I’m curious what the DEC would recommend in this case.

    • Vanessa says:

      Typo: were not we’re. Dang autocorrect

      • JT says:


        The DEC recommends taking down ash trees that have the EAB infestation because the trees become dry and brittle and present a safety hazard.
        My woodlot has a high percentage of black ash that I am targeting for firewood before the infestation arrives. I have too many so don’t think I will get them all in time.
        I try to leave as many snags as I can. Most of them are Elm killed by Dutch Elm Disease and old Poplar.

        • Vanessa says:

          Thank you for the reply! For invasive bugs, I guess by the time the tree is dead it’s too late to prevent spread? My folks are in NJ, for reference. I’ve seen a LOT more of the emerald ash borer there and in lower NY than the ADKs – but that’s just anecdotal

  3. David says:

    While you are absolutely correct about the many benefits to wildlife of leaving standing dead trees intact, remember that they are called “widow-makers” for a reason. Perhaps let’s only leave the ones in the interior of a wooded area. Those along trails, roads, and near habitats should be removed, before they remove one of us.

    • Bill Ott says:

      To be completely fair and in line with the new administration, we must maintain an equal number of “widower-makers”.

  4. Dan says:

    JT I would love to source some black Ash to pound splint from for chairs bottoms and baskets. I’m near Saranac but would travel for treasure worth bartering for.

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