Skip To Content
Cavity Dead-and-Standing-Tree
Cavity Dead-and-Standing-Tree
Let dead logs lie to improve woodland habitat, support wildlife
Published: 2/12/2021
Featured Image
If a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does its decaying wood still greatly benefit the local ecology? Yes, it does!

“Deadwood” is any part of a woody plant that has died and is in a stage of decomposition. This can include fallen branches and logs, standing dead trees, or even very old living trees that hold a significant amount of dead and rotted wood. Decomposition is the final life stage of a tree. A tree spends its life drawing water and nutrients from the soil to support its growth. Once it dies and breaks down, those nutrients are gradually released back into the soil to support other plants.

Through this natural cycle, which may take place over hundreds of years, a tree grows, dies, and provides the nutrients needed for their successors to take their place. Deadwood also serves as a microhabitat for countless wildlife species, ranging from microscopic organisms and insects to large birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.

A pileated woodpecker may bore into decaying trunks to feed on the insect larvae within. A blue-spotted salamander may take refuge beneath a fallen log. The threatened northern long-eared bat, suffering from population declines across the country, may roost and raise young in large maternity colonies in tree cavities formed by decay.

A huge variety of species require access to decaying wood. We deny them that access when we remove fallen branches and logs or cut down all dead trees. Of course, everything changes if the deadwood is posing a significant safety concern. Large, rotting trees within a few feet of a permanent target that can’t get up and walk away, like a home, should be addressed. However, a dead tree with no targets is not a hazard, because if it falls it is extremely unlikely to hurt anyone or damage any property.

Tree risk is partially about the condition and hazard potential of the tree itself, but more about the potential targets that could be impacted. In many cases a portion of a dangerous tree that is close to a high-value target could be cut while allowing the lower section of the trunk—maybe 8-10 feet—to remain standing to provide habitat.

When it comes to a natural wooded area, it’s best to take a hands-off approach. Let nature run its course and enjoy the sights and sounds of the plants and animals deadwood supports