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North Dakota Outdoors: Dead Trees
Dead trees. Mistaken shapes in the
wind, strange outlines in the sky. Interesting for a photographer, perhaps
-- a source of firewood -- but what other good are they?
Actually, they do a lot of good. For wildlife, dead trees are essential
They're used by a long list of wild creatures as nesting areas:
All use dead trees as homes in which to raise their young.
Without dead trees, North Dakota's plains and grasslands would be much less
rich in birds, and wildlife.
Fish use limbs that have dropped in
the water as hidingplaces -- to ambush prey.
Turtles crawl up on driftwood to sun
Dead trees aren't just homes, and sunporches -- they're restaurants, as
well. They provide a steady diet of insects for woodpeckers, nuthatches,
And even after that "snag' has collapsed to the ground, its work continues.
It's still a feeding ground for birds -- for mammals such as rabbits and
porcupines -- and for insects like carpenter ants. Insects and weather slowly
reduce the wood to humus, which enriches the soil.
From the time it was standing, decked with a canopy of bright leaves ...
to the time it becomes a smattering of molecules in the ground ... this
tree has been a vital link in the vibrancy of life.
We humans like things neat, and tidy. But sometimes in Nature it's best
to leave things a bit ... random. Let Nature seek its own patterns, which
are better than anything we can devise. Dead trees may not look so beneficial
to us. But the wild world knows better. They're food, shelter, and homesites.
So the next time you see a dead tree
reared up against the skyline, don't think of it as a useless snag. Recognize
it as one more step in the rich, sometimes inscrutable .. but always triumphant
process .. that is life.
This is Lex Hames for the North Dakota
Game and Fish Department .. out in the Wild.
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Last modified Feb. 9, 1996