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600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

This document is provided for archival purposes only.
Archived documents do not reflect current WDFW regulations or policy and may contain factual inaccuracies.

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May 07, 1997
Contact: Madonna Luers, (509) 456-4073

There's life in those winter-storm damaged trees

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) asks for a reprieve for wildlife as property owners cut, haul and burn debris from storm-damaged trees and shrubs.

"There's life in those storm-damaged trees," say WDFW urban wildlife biologists Howard Ferguson of Spokane and Patricia Thompson of Seattle.

Sixty-five species of birds, 30 species of mammals and two species of amphibians use dead trees for shelter, food or the rearing of offspring, they explain. Only 17 bird species are capable of making their own nest cavities in trees, while another 80 animal species -- such as bluebirds, chickadees, swallows, and squirrels depend on previously excavated or natural holes for nesting.

"Certainly there are many instances where damaged trees pose a safety hazard to people and their homes or other buildings and therefore need to be removed," Ferguson said. "But there are many more broken-top trees that could be left standing to provide homes and life for birds and other animals."

Tree and shrub debris can be piled up to create hiding, nesting, and thermal cover for many species. Thompson noted hauling or burning debris can hurt wildlife and reduce owners' enjoyment of their property.

"Nature has provided a little habitat re-arranging or re-modeling for wildlife," Ferguson said. "If you look closely in storm-damaged areas, you're likely to see species you haven't seen, or maybe just not noticed before."

Some other facts about life in dead trees with not-so-trivial impacts include:

  • The insulation of a tree trunk home allows many animal species to survive hot summers and cold winters
  • Rhythmic drumming on dead trees is an indispensable ritual of woodpecker courtship, as well as an integral part of territorial defense (and better that dead tree than your wood-sided or shingled house!)
  • A nesting pair of woodpeckers excavates up to three cavities per year before finally choosing one to complete nesting
  • As the bark cracks and loosens on a dead tree, exposed crevices and overhangs are used by insect-eating bats for day roosting or nursery colonies
  • Tree cavities and loose bark house insects that feed many other animals, as well as providing places for animals to store food supplies
  • As a tree dies, each stage of its decomposition serves a vital role in feeding or housing wildlife, from the sprouting of mushrooms relished by deer to the proliferation of earthworms.
For more tips on how to help wildlife on personal property, WDFW offers a $5 "Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary" information packet through its Spokane regional office (N. 8702 Division St., Spokane, WA 99218-1199, 509-456-4082) or Seattle area regional office (16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek, WA 98012-1296, 206-775-1311.)