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Farm and Forest Cutting Firewood

Cutting Firewood: Spare that Snag!

The recent drought may have killed a tree here and there in your woodland. You may also have previously standing dead trees. It's tempting to head directly to those trees first when selecting trees to cut for firewood. 

Ecologically speaking, taking out all your dead trees is a mistake. Dead trees, especially larger ones, are a crucial component of old growth forest, a habitat which is often in short supply. Dead trees, called snags, are classed as hard snags and soft snags, based on how long they've been dead. Both snag types are valuable habitat. 

Snags are prime locations for cavities. Dens and cavities are used for roosting, resting, hibernation and nesting. In the Ozarks at least 39 species use cavity and den trees. Woodpeckers are primary excavators, making new cavities each year for nesting. In following years these holes are used by owls, squirrels, bats, birds like the tufted titmouse and many others. 

In addition to cavities, snags provide sounding boards for territory maintenance, singing perches, and feeding and surveillance spots. Snags often have loose bark where insects can be found by their predators. When the snag finally falls to the ground it continues to provide habitat for animals like salamanders, and nutrients for the soil. 

It's also important to be on the lookout for living trees with dens. These trees, while being home to many critters, are also often making good acorn crops. Acorns are an extremely valuable wildlife food. 

Den trees and snags are an important part of old growth habitat. With many of our woodlands being carelessly cut, it is important to remember to maintain these old growth qualities as you work your woods.

For more information on sustainable forestry, see the Value Missouri web site.

Written by Hank Dorst, photos by Peter Callaway.