[Tweeters] poor woodpeckers - valuing the dead stuff

Stewart Wechsler ecostewart at quidnunc.net
Thu Sep 27 22:41:12 PDT 2007

As many of you know, I lead nature programs for both kids and all age
groups. A while ago I realized that one of the biggest problems for
wildlife in areas with people is that people often think it is good to
remove dead plant material that actually provides critical food and shelter.
One of the messages I try to incorporate into my programs is that the dead
stuff, whether it is a standing dead tree, fallen trunks, logs, branches or
leaves or standing old flower stalks is some of the most important wildlife
habitat. Even when people bemoan a "sick" tree I tell them that the sicker
a tree is the more likely it will become a home to fungi, then beetle larvae
and other insects and a food source and or nesting site for woodpeckers and
others, as well as a more open perch for birds that need perches with views.

Sadly I didn't take the time to write a letter to the editor after that big
wind storm about a year ago, but I would have said that while it may be sad
in one way that some trees blew down, the fallen wood may have made
important homes and shelter for salamanders, beetles and many other
organisms. Additionally the sunny openings left after those trees fell may
have been critical to the establishment of plants that need the sun. The
elimination of competition will allow some remaining trees to grow quicker.
Because dead trees have no leaves and fewer branches to catch the wind,
relatively few of the standing dead trees fell in that wind storm. On the
whole, the standing dead trees are more critical habitat than the fallen
ones, so I'm not advocating creating "downed woody debris" out of standing
dead wood.

I work to get more people to value both snags (standing dead wood) and this
"downed woody debris" rather than cut it up and haul it away, as people so
often do. There may be exceptions where a rotting tree poses a true and
significant hazard to property or people in a heavilly traffiicked spot, but
I believe the risk is often exagerated and the benefit of the standing dead
or sick tree often not understood and not valued enough in the risk -
benefit equation.

Stewart Wechsler
Ecological Consulting
West Seattle
206 932-7225
ecostewart at quidnunc.net

-Advice on the most site-appropriate native plants
and how to enhance habitat for the maximum diversity
of plants and animals
-Educational programs, nature walks and field trips
-Botanical Surveys

-----Original Message-----
From: Dennis Paulson [mailto:dennispaulson at comcast.net]
Sent: Thursday, September 27, 2007 10:07 AM
To: Tweeters
Subject: [Tweeters] poor woodpeckers

I just heard today's BirdNote on woodpeckers, fun listening as always.
Then I came home to see that the neighbors behind us, at the lip of the
Thornton Creek ravine, were cutting off ALL the dead wood on the bigleaf
maples behind their house, all trees in our viewshed. These are the trunks
and branches where both flickers and Pileated Woodpeckers have nested for
years and where, when I heard a Pileated call, I could often look out and
see it up there silhouetted against the sky. I know Red-breasted Nuthatches
and Black-capped Chickadees also nested there. Now these nest sites are all
gone, and I see nothing but green leaves. I suppose they got the trees
pruned for safety reasons, although most would have fallen into the ravine,
not on their house. These are neighbors very concerned about the world,
including the environment, yet they blithely got rid of all this nesting
habitat without a second thought. This was a reprise of another set of
neighbors next to us who trimmed off all the dead branches of the maple in
their yard that had always been attractive to trunk-pecking birds,
Olive-sided Flycatchers, and other birds that liked open views. We actually
asked them not to do it, but our request fell on deaf ears, as they were
more concerned with branches falling on their children. This is of course a
valid concern, but it certainly doesn't paint a rosy picture for
cavity-nesting birds in settled areas. Sadly, another problem without an
apparent solution, short of a city ordinance that if you cut down dead
branches you have to put up bird boxes to replace them!

Dennis Paulson
1724 NE 98 St.
Seattle, WA 98115
dennispaulson at comcast.net

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