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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: Wood ducks

Hooded Mergansers

Eagles


Fox Squirrels


Chipmunks

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 themselves.

Dead trees aren't just homes, and sunporches -- they're restaurants, as well. They provide a steady diet of insects for woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens.

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