photo of fungus on tree trunk

Home Sweet Forest Home

By Glenn N. Major

You can call them snags, nurse logs, stumps… Forestry folks call them “coarse woody debris”. Much of the life in our forests call them home.  Some of us this think they are natural modern art. They are so important to forest ecology. That is why we let them lay where they fall in Shirley Heinze nature preserves. Those rotting logs benefit us in many ways.

photos of Interesting snags in the forest
Interesting snags in the forest

Biomass and carbon sequestration — The Sierra Club tells us that it can take one to five hundred years for a tree to completely decay. That gives mankind some time to do something about our carbon emissions. Thirty to forty percent of a forest’s biomass is woody debris on the forest floor.

photo of log on the forest floor
Log on the forest floor

Decay and Nutrition— The trunk of a living tree is 5 percent living cells. A fallen log can be forty percent living organisms. Moss, fungi, and most importantly, nitrogen fixing bacteria, decompose and recycle the fallen timber.  Since nitrogen in particular is essential for forest growth, rotting wood is part of a healthy ecosystem.


Habitat— Many woodland creatures make their homes in dead trees.  One third of woodland bird species reside in holes and cavities of standing trees as well as bats, amphibians, and small mammals that call these spaces home.  Fallen trees provide a roof for the dens of burrowing mammals and salamanders.  Many species of beetles depend on decayed wood for their larvae.

So we at Shirley Heinze don’t clean up our forest.

All that messy debris is an invaluable asset.

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