Josh Morrisey, City of Spokane Parks & Recreation, Outreach Coordinator
It might be counterintuitive to think a dead tree can have as much or even more use to local wildlife than living ones, but it's true. In fact, dead wood makes up crucial habitat for more than one-fourth of wildlife species in the Pacific Northwest. With this in mind, Spokane Urban Forestry has begun selectively preserving standing dead trees around the city as wildlife trees.
According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the term “wildlife tree” refers to those trees, living, dead or some of both, with dead wood features (holes, cracks, loose bark, etc.) providing habitats for cavity-dwelling species.
Spokane Urban Forestry started making the conscious decision to leave some standing dead trees a few years ago, according to Urban Forester Angel Spell. Attaching signs to those trees around the city serves to inform passers-by of their value to the natural ecosystem where some might view a standing dead tree as an oversight by the City.
“By adding the signage, we hope to let the public know that we are being intentional in preserving and creating habitat in our urban forest, not only as a benefit to wildlife but also to enhance the park visitor’s experience," Spell said.
So, what kinds of wildlife live in dead trees, anyway?
The Department of Natural Resources says there are five basic categories:
Primary cavity excavators - Examples include woodpeckers, flickers, and nuthatches that make and use new cavities every year.
Secondary cavity users - Several species of small owls, bluebirds, kestrels, cavity nesting ducks, flying squirrels, raccoons, martens, and deer mice, are examples of more than 100 species who cannot excavate cavities by themselves, but use abandoned holes to nest and raise young.
Open nesters - Larger birds like eagles or osprey can use either dead or live trees, but they usually prefer trees with a broken top or flat crown to support their nest and provide a good view of the area.
Other mammals - Small mammals like bats, flying squirrels or mice look for shelter and nesting places under loose bark and other small cavities.
Amphibians - Many species of frogs and salamanders use dead and dying trees for habitat, especially once the wood is in an advanced stage of decay and laying on the ground (coarse woody debris). In general, decaying trees are also an important food source at all levels of the food chain.
So, next time you see a dead tree, just remember that it may be a home to some of our precious wildlife.
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