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Percentage of standing deadwood for a healthy forest?

WildernessJeep

WildernessJeep

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Helena
I recently acquired a neighboring 100 acres. It looks like someone has already selectively harvested the valuable wood, with mostly young pines, leaning oaks, or standing deadwood left. There is a heavy undergrowth of yaupon, which I plan to yank from the roots and chip in place. I intend to take out any leaning or unhealthy trees, and anything less than about 8 inches in diameter. That will leave about 80/20 pine and oak with very little undergrowth. My question is how much (if any) standing deadwood should I leave? I understand that snag can be good for the overall health of a forest, but I also realize it can be dangerous and is generally unsightly. Opinions on leaving it in place and how much? The picture is literally the only open area on the property. The rest of it is totally overgrown.
 

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ATH

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I would only remove deadwood where it presents hazards: along roads...if you have a picnic or camping area, etc... otherwise, to me it is a waste of time to remove and reduce wildlife value of the woods.

Couple of thoughts on your plan (with the caveat that I am a forester in the east...never practiced in western forests!):
*I've never been a huge can of ripping things out by the roots because of unnecessary soil disturbance. If it needs to come out (does it all, or just thinned?) cut it and treat stumps if it will sprout back. I know not everybody is a fan of herbicides, but the reality is that small dose of herbicide has less impact than the soil disturbance caused by things being ripped out by the roots.
*Why are you removing everything under 8" are you planning to manage the forests with even aged management (periodic clearcuts). That is the next generation of trees. Also a thinning from below often does little to benefit canopy trees.
*One you take out all of the leaning and unhealthy trees, how much canopy does that leave? Sounds like it could be pretty thin - which will result in a very thick understory. If that is the case, you may want to slow down on some canopy removal until it recovers from the harvest (sounds like it was a high grade if the left the leaning and unhealthy oaks...). More selectively identify which trees will benefit the most from being thinned around. Remove the most problematic trees, but perhaps leave others if they are the "best thing going" in a small area.
 
old CB

old CB

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The "danger" of standing deadwood is quite overstated. Yes, dead limbs & trees fall over time, but unless you spend a lot of time under those dead trees during high winds or snow load their fall will largely be uneventful. Dead trees are part of nature's design. Their value in the woods is mainly twofold, as I see it.

First, as wildlife habitat: snags provide valuable nesting opportunities, and the leafless limbs serve as good perch for large birds. Also, insect life feeding on the trees is a buffet for the lower end of the food chain. Mushrooms, etc. It's all good stuff for your woods.

Second, when that dead growth decays it feeds the ground, sort of like manuring a hay meadow. However, as soon as I say this I realize that you're in western woods (I'm in the Colorado rockies), where decay takes FOREVER. Unlike eastern woods where most downed wood rots over time, in western woods the same stuff just builds up as fuel. So you'll need to balance fuel load on the ground with what might decay. Decay does happen in the west, just at a far slower rate than elsewhere.

As to deadwood being "unsightly," I'd say that belongs to what can be characterized as a "suburban" mindset. Some deadwood is actually quite pretty when observed over time. Look at some of the patterns you get in long-dead white oak for instance.

I would leave in place as much dead wood as you can without raising fire risk too much. When clients want to pretty up their woods I like to point out that "Nature loves a mess."
 

ATH

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....
When clients want to pretty up their woods I like to point out that "Nature loves a mess."
Good quote!

I also encourage landowners to cut live stuff for firewood instead of deadwood. That improves the forest by getting rid of junk trees - removing dead stuff doesn't do anything to improve the growing conditions of everything else.

(also good points about fire - something I forget too often because we don't have to deal with that much around here.
 
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