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Standing dead timber

 
                    
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This stuff is excellent wildlife habitat.  It's also the first choice for firewood when you run out towards the end of winter.  How forest friendly is it to cut down standing dead trees

There are some old growth stumps on our place that are riddled with pileated woodpecker holes, these are the sort we'll never cut.  But if it's a smallish sized tree that got damaged last time logging took place around it (20 years ago, prolly), and it's dead and in a good spot to fell.....is it that bad?  We just took a doug fir that fit this description yesterday, and I got to thinking about the eco-ness of it. 

Opinions? 
 
Chuck Freeman
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I think it good to do selective cutting most of our firewood and  saw logs are standing dead spruce. It will also open up the canopy to give younger trees a chance. Out here we have a lot of beetle kill spruce so we take them out for protection against wildfire.
 
Paul Cereghino
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What does the land look like after a few generations of management?
 
                    
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You're asking for a futuristic vision of the effects of our management practices, right?  This is one of the most intimidating aspect of stewarding any piece of land, in my opinion.  I ask myself constantly:  What will it look like a century from now, and how will I be responsible for the state of the land at that point in time?

In general, I'm attempting to define and condense the areas where we are 'allowed' to have human activity of any sort.  I have no intention of subdividing the forest space into human space, and we plan to keep our footprint in general to a minimum - mostly to where previous homesteaders/landowners have already made their mark.

The eastern and southeastern slices of forest have amazing riparian zones - a totally undeveloped spring creates a small stream (we get our water from another one further up the hill - already had a spring box built around it when I got here), carpets of ferns and wild ginger, alders, ashes, and a very special grove of yew trees.  It's dotted with huge cedar stumps that are well into decomposition - probably cut more like 70-100 years ago.  This area I would like to stay out of entirely (cept for walking visits of course, and minimal medicinal plant picking), no buildings, no cuttings, no plantings.  Plan to look into putting it into some sort of conservation trust so that those that come after me will be obligated to do the same.  The wood peckered stumps and other old growth dead timbers are located down there and there they will remain. 

On the other hand, there are fairly fresh logging roads throughout much of the rest of the 36 acres of forest.  There are a few gaps that were created for skid/felling sites and are now blackberry patches growing over logging slash.  Around the perimeter of these gaps is where the small dead conifers for easy firewood are generally, it's easy to fell them into the gap without damaging anything of real value.  In some of these existing gaps we've started discussing ponds, or planting large nut trees or even standard apples.  So perhaps in the course of shaping these gaps with the intention of healing them, we can feel ok about removing some dead standing stuff? 

I suppose I feel less attached to treating the areas that were logged like wilderness - because they're not wilderness.  Other humans have already come and rather roughly harvested what they want.  I'd like to use a more gentle form of harvesting to allow us our fuel needs while leaving the nicer areas (containing more diversity in the understory, and mature, healthy overstory) alone for regeneration.  Most of our fuel comes from fallen limbs or small conifers that have made the meadow smaller in the last 30 years. 

It's just that standing dead is dry and not buried under snow right now.....this is only my second winter doing the firewood thing, I'm not that great yet at guessing how much we need.  Our cabin is about 170 square feet and fairly well insulated, we might burn a cord over the whole winter. 
 
Dave Miller
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If your standing dead trees have peeling bark and/or large internal cavities, are near water, and get a lot of sunlight, then it is likely that they are used as roosting spaces for bats.  I would try to leave dead trees that meet those criteria.

Another thought is that it can be dangerous to cut a tree that has been dead for a while - the vibration from the saw may cause branches and/or the top of the tree to break off and hurt or kill you.  At the very least you should wear a hardhat.
 
Emil Spoerri
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it's not bad to cut it down, but in my opinion, most felled timber should stay where it fell
 
                    
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So even if humans at one point in time caused an inordinate number of trees to fall at once, we should leave the remnants where they lay?  I understand the importance of wood decomposition in a forest, but logging on a large scale upsets the more natural balance of new trees and dead trees that can be found in an undisturbed forest.  Seems that removing/covering some of that wood might be a good protection against fire -  a very real danger where we are. 

The logs (in the photo I linked to in the original post) in that skid site we plan to bury under an earth dam to create a pond in that space.  Massive scale hugelkulture!  And again, that site's current state was created by people 20 years ago.  An excavator leveled out the whole landing, cutting into the hillside and pushing everything out of the way.  We could just leave it and let the forest do it's own slow recovery, but we'll stop erosion, and get more use out of the water that flows through that area seasonally if there's a pond in that spot.  And, I feel we can shape and heal that area so that it doesn't look like humans came to take what they wanted, and left without a thought for the aftermath.  It doesn't look like attractive or responsibly managed land right now. 

We don't cut hollow dead trees because they don't make much firewood.    Good criteria to follow though, adunca. 
 
Paul Cereghino
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I think that the idea is that by managing your home for production, for the benefit of yourself and you community, you can reduce your community's dependence on imports, where you are less able to control the impacts to ecosystems.  Thus the goal is to be responsible for you impact, not to not have impact.
 
                    
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Well said, Paul. 
 
Seth Pogue
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    As a conservation biologist I can tell you beyond any doubt that standing dead trees ("snags" are absolutely critical habitat elements, along with downed logs THE most critical habitat for the forest's charismatic megavertebrates.  Any snags bigger than about 20" DBH (diameter at breast height) leave them. Way more important habitat than live trees.
    Standing deadwood 2 years old is also the best wood for boardmaking.  Once it's more than 4 or 5 (hardwood), 5-10 (cedar, redwood) it's not much good anymore for this purpose.
  So - if for boardmaking, perhaps ring a few 12" DBH live trees that you want to thin and release anyway, let them stand and cure, cut 2 years later then mill right away.
 
                    
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asmileisthenewak47 wrote:
it's not bad to cut it down, but in my opinion, most felled timber should stay where it fell



We have several acres we use as a second home and future retirement home. We are surrounded by National Forest. There are some developed small communities nearby with many others scattered about within a 20 mile radius. We have ponderosa pines, firs, aspen and a few small oaks. Like much such acreage virtually all fires have been suppressed for a hundred years, or more. There is nothing natural about the forest in our area. To say that fallen trees should be left as fallen in this case does not take the years of fire suppression interference with nature into account.

We have followed a thinning regimen that cleared the forest floor of most of the highly flammable debris. This debris would have been burned away if nature had been left alone. We also thinned out hundreds of trees per acre, yes hundreds per acre. Many of these were spindly, under 4 inches in diameter. We also thinned out some good size trees when we would find several in too close proximity.

Now, we also left some standing dead pines and aspen here and there. As well we have left and in some places shifted large fallen trees across slopes. We built a few catch basins in some sloped drainage areas to slow down the water and allow it to soak into the ground rather than run away and cause erosion. Okay, that's not natural either, but we and the local state foresters have applauded our efforts in trying to hold and retain the rain water and snow melt.

As a side note, I have been told by the ranger with land next to us, that back in the days before fire suppression became the norm, fire would burn areas every 8 - 10 years. They were predominantly caused by lightning strikes in June through July. Many would die out in the rains after burning small tracts. Some would burn slowly, meandering here and there until snow would fall. They were virtually all ground level fires that cleaned up much of the fallen debris and very young trees.  None of the crown fires that are the big concern these days. That's the effect we have tried to emulate with our modern day chain saws, selling and giving away firewood, and burning the trash trees and brush.

Anyhow I just wanted to say one needs to be careful when deciding what state the forests should be left in.
 
Brenda Groth
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we have a fairly large mixed forest, that we have allowed to spread so that it would become nurse trees ..for hardwoods

the first trees that came in the succession forest for this area were mostly aspen trees, but also a few birch, wild cherry and in the swampier areas alder..

the aspen and birch are very short lived..and the aspen tend to die fairly quickly and often with the tops falling off leaving a standing trunk anywhere from 8 to 20 feet high.

the pileated woodpeckers do love these rotted trunks that are left..and yes some of the fallen logs are great for other wildlife habitat as well as feeding the forest floor..but there are enough of them in a nurse woods that you can remove a lot of the fallen wood for firewood or for hugelkulture berms.

the purpose of the nurse trees on our property is to provide habitat for hardwood and evergreen trees, which are now beginning to grow quite well. However, the falling dying aspens will damage the hardwood trees if they aren't properly watched and maintained..as they don't really determine their landing points very well.

as i was purusing the woods earlier this spring, i did notice lots of baby hardwoods growing, mostly oak, maple, ash and a few others and a few evergreens..but some of them had fallen aspen trees down on them..which really  need to be moved.

we always leave some downed wood and some snags standing..but if you  are properly managing your forests and are looking for the hardwoods to grow, you should be sure that your nurse trees aren't falling on the hardwoods causing them damage or killing them...also a good idea to keep a check on your paths and access roads that they are kept clear for access to the rear areas of your woods. propery management does mean to allow the forest floor and duff to feed the wildlife and trees, but also to make way for the new stronger trees to thrive
 
                        
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Here is Wikipedia on snags:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snag_(ecology)

I wonder about leaving timber to stand and then cutting it later as dead wood.  It may depend on the tree species, but I always understood  -- from the sawmill operator and personal experience that its better to get trees for lumber felled and milled as green wood.

Once the tree has lost pliability and moisture it is very hard to cut.

 
Paul Cereghino
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I bet this depends on species and ecosystem.  We who are saturated by fungal spores may not fare so well.
 
Seth Pogue
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The density of many of the forest's charismatic megavertebrates is a function of available cover. The more large snags and downed logs, the more critters.
 
Kirk Hutchison
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I think it should be fine as long as you don't take too much.
 
Al Loria
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A club I once belonged to had 80 acres under the Forestry Management Program.  When we had to do a thinning, we cut the logs into smaller pieces and left them on the forest floor.  Smaller limbs and trunks were assembled into dome shaped piles for wildlife habitat.  We tried this with brush piles in our own yard, at the woods edge, and the rabbits came in that first spring. 

Immediately behind our property the power company has an access road they clear out every 3-5 years, and the natural habitat gets ruined.  We've built habitat over the past two years in our backyard completely across the property line, and it has brought in critters that were not seen for years.

The other advantage of the habitat restoration is that the Deer cannot, or don't even try to penetrate the thick high brush, and that has lessened the amount of Deer damage on our property. We have one car sized cut that was left by the town between our neighbor and us that we are now transplanting wild thorn bushes on to divert the Deer completely off our property.  Free and cheap Deer repellent.
 
Al Loria
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Northeast Al wrote:
A club I once belonged to had 80 acres under the Forestry Management Program.  When we had to do a thinning, we cut the logs into smaller pieces and left them on the forest floor.  Smaller limbs and trunks were assembled into dome shaped piles for wildlife habitat.  We tried this with brush piles in our own yard, at the woods edge, and the rabbits came in that first spring. 

Immediately behind our property the power company has an access road they clear out every 3-5 years, and the natural habitat gets ruined.  We've built habitat over the past two years in our backyard completely across the property line, and it has brought in critters that were not seen for years.

The other advantage of the habitat restoration is that the Deer cannot, or don't even try to penetrate the thick high brush, and that has lessened the amount of Deer damage on our property. We have one car sized cut that was left by the town between our neighbor and us that we are now transplanting wild thorn bushes on to divert the Deer completely off our property.  Free and cheap Deer repellent.


Forgot to mention, all dead-falls were left where they fell, and all dead trees were left standing.
 
                    
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There is a real dilemma as to what is best. What you have there is similar to what the owner of the 20 some acres that shares a 1000 foot boundary with us. There were many "teepee" bundles of fallen trees made for wildlife habitat. He also left the ground covered with several decades worth of deadfall.

When he was careless and caused a fire it took hold in the dry ground litter and with the light breeze the fire took off towards our property. One of the "teepeed" trees/logs caught fire. The flames were reaching some 30 feet or more in the air.  The wind was driving the fire toward our property. The fire burned to our fence line. There it stopped. There was no ground fuel for the fire, other than some grasses that were still mostly short and beginning to green up. The fire also consumed about 8 cords of wood I had stacked along the fence line. I was planning on selling it that summer. The stacked wood had come from our cleanup and thinning efforts. I now store any large amounts of wood like that in the cleared area that was once the pit of a pumice mine.

I absolutely believe that the main thing that stopped that fire from growing into something major was our ground cleanup. The other was the quick response to the fire by four engine companies, one from some 35 miles away and another from about 40 miles away.  Another factor was the neighbors quick realization that he could not control the fire himself; he drove several miles before he got cell service and called it in. We were on the highway to the cabin. We were more than surprised and alarmed when we realized the smoke was coming from either our property or very close by. ^ fire trucks and 20 fire fighters were there and hard at work.

The forest service was the main responder. Their services cost him $10,000. He was lucky in that once the crews reached the fire and saw our thinned and cleaned forest space around the cabin and outbuildings they cancelled the helicopter tanker because they were certain they had a fighting chance. The fire fighter supervisor and several of the crew congratulated us on how we had prepared.

There are still thousands of acres of heavily forested land, over forested actually, surrounding our private land.

Sorry for the length of this, but I simply do not believe it is healthy for the forest itself, the wildlife or the humans that live there.

Anyhow that's my story. I'd be very careful about where and how much material I would leave laying about.

 
                        
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Don Miller:  The Alabama Forestry Division has started a major campaign as of last year to send representatives to visit people who own fire prone properties.

I agree that a few snags are good for wildlife, but 25 or 50 acres of them are fire traps and are only a sign of owner negligence.  There is a difference.
 
Chuck Freeman
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This is a bit of a thread drift but, here is a great resource on Wildfire protection
 
Al Loria
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Our 80 acres were under the Forestry Management Program, and as such, we had to retain a registered consulting forester.  The forester would come yearly to inspect and recommend what areas needed to be thinned. Our wildlife habitat was in a valley with open canopy and clear forest floor, adjacent to a swamp.

Our own yard is a 1/4 acre with woods in the back that extend half a mile or so, with a road or two between us and the next development.  Pretty much all around us is farmland that has been sold off and much has been reclaimed by the forest.  The NYC watershed owns much of that land and there are also strick guidlines for the buffer zones surrounding them.

Not to say that lightning strikes or a careless person could not cause a fire, but in the case of the 80 acres, they were under a federal program, and were managed according to the specified regulations.  For whatever that is worth.
 
                    
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The Forestry Division here in NM has done some education work too. But it is strange that even after a huge destruction fire 25 miles from us, 10 years ago, some people still don't get it. I am still not convinced my one neighbor understands that he is still sitting in a tinder box. He has promised to be more careful, That's good but it won't help a dry lightning strike.

One of my other 2 neighbors is a Forest Service supervisor. His property is very well in control. He did make use of the state assistance program. They pay about 2/3 towards the cost od thinning and shredding or cutting and stacking the cut timber. They have contract pro crews go through and you end up with some standing dead, some on the ground, after a year or two much more grass, and a hugely reduced fire danger. We've emulated their process but without the heavy machines.

The firewise site has good info. We basically have tried to follow their suggestions, although I will admit to still having a few too many trees in the 30 ft zone.
 
Al Loria
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I'm sure management practices vary from state to state and they change according to drought and fire load and other considerations.  Most probably it is a good idea to keep your property clear from a potential fire hazard.  And also protected from neighbors who do not have the same understanding of the risks.


We have a decent clear grass area between the woods and the house.  Still, it may never be enough during drought or an out of balance fire load situation.  At least we are on a small mountain and flooding is not a worry for us.  Except when the water heater goes, as it did about a week ago...
 
                        
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Some areas are within natural fire regiemes -- like the Southern California chapparal.  If it doesn't burn periodically it is a set-up for big out-of-control fires.
 
Fred Morgan
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I personally think you have a good balance. You have a few trees that are sacred for the wildlife, but trees that have been damaged due to logging, for example, you harvest. I might add as well, if you have the choice, look at other factors like proximate to water, food, etc.

I also agree as to not having too much brush. Myself personally, I tend to leave near water ways wild and untouched, mainly to improve the water. Closer to where we live starts to represent human habitat - I don't want a 200 foot tree falling on our home. Generally speaking 30 to 40 percent of our lands are left in a wild state by using this formula. The rest is plantations. (about 800 acres in total)

When harvesting trees, look to "release" your best trees for the future. Crowding in the forest is a problem like crowding in a garden. You can actually help the forest come back from high grading (which here is called genetic erosion) by removing some trees and leaving the genetically superior. Unless you are lucking enough to have a virgin forest - most forest are damaged. They can use a bit of human help bringing them back.

One other factor is how much land you are affecting. If you have an acre, you are going to have to be much more careful than if say you have 800 like we do. But then again, living in the tropics, we don't heat at all.

 
Matt Ferrall
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Standing dead is benificial and there are often hard to access areas that are easier left alone anyway.Most of my managment is based on the land managment around me.Their is over 1 sq.mile of identical forest around me which due to salmon streams is not loggable so I didnt feel sad girdling the majority of cottonwoods on my land and with everything around me pretty much protected(ie.not managed)any managment I due is a plus for wildlife.Even a clearcut would be an improvment in diversity from wildlife perspective.Personaly,I hate the danger involved in cutting dead stuff and here,its best to have the wood sawn while green(hardwoods)
 
                    
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Wow hadn't visited this thread in a while, thanks for the input and stories, everyone. 

Seems the decision to fell a tree comes come back to the old standby of observation -  look at the specific tree (alive or dead), note it's surroundings, it's aspect, it's particular character, and then decide if it's best to make it stay or go. 

My friend Deston said on the evening I first met him - paraphrasing - I'm just an animal altering my environment to suit my needs.  And that idea really freed up some of my guilt about making changes in the forest surrounding my home.  Beavers fell trees too.  In waterways, no less! 

My motto I guess is: I am a respectful animal who thinks about the well-being of the other persons in the forest. 


And I guess another conversation is how to deal with all the extra carbon we remove for the sake of fire safety and plant diversity.  It's common to burn it in piles.  We've been using a chipper, either blowing the chips back in the woods or saving them for other purposes - animal bedding, wall infill, etc.  I wonder though, if we're getting a higher return in chips when compared to the amount of carbon burned to run the thing. 

But maybe that's another thread for another day. 
 
                              
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HI Marina, I just wanted to make an observation that "southern cascades"(as you ask your question) can encompass just about anything from temperate rain forest to high desert ponderosa pine or juniper stuff--huge swings in moisture content, etc. Basically the wetter it is the more wood you can leave on the ground. Otherwise, naturally, in drier climates(where wood will take longer to decompose) there is more fire running through "cleaning stuff up" and returning nutrients to the soil in a faster timeline than decomposition would. A ponderosa pine forest just doesn't look like a coastal doug fir forest.

DOn't feel guilty about making changes(within reason, ha)--nature is all about change and flux. Thinning trees can simulate fire "housecleaning"--the hard part is getting a clear picture of what nature's idea of housekeeping is, not imprinting our idea on it(which we gotta remember, the past 100 years have formed a lot of unnatural forest structures as forest management has evolved). And we are terrible housekeepers!

Nice chicken coop! I peeped at your other pix

 
Susanna de Villareal-Quintela
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don miller; MountainDon wrote:

Anyhow that's my story. I'd be very careful about where and how much material I would leave laying about.



I agree, Don. 

There is also the issue of a fire "canopy-hopping."  In the old forrests, there were very distinct and separate canopies within a single forest.  This separation helped prevent an entire forest burning down in the event of a large fire.  Most canopies, today, are mixed-level and that allows fire to reach every tree standing resulting in total loss.



 
                    
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Most canopies, today, are mixed-level and that allows fire to reach every tree standing resulting in total loss.
 

Right.  We have thousands of small conifers that would take forever to thin themselves and in the meantime lead a fire trail directly up to their parents.  They're generally tall with little taper, and they've been growing there, very slowly, a long time - a six inch diameter tree (at the widest point) can be 50 years old!  We've been using the firs for rafters and whatnot. 

It's unfortunate to me, that many of my neighbors look at standing dead timber and see a fire hazard, when it's really more of the above situation that leads to the huge canopy fires. 

I read somewhere that ants are actually one of the most important species to live in dead trees.  They quietly perform many important forest functions - distributing seeds is a really essential one (plus providing lots of food for all the birds).

"southern cascades"(as you ask your question) can encompass just about anything from temperate rain forest to high desert ponderosa pine or juniper stuff--huge swings in moisture content, etc.


Totally true!  We're in a pretty wet valley but we get no rain for four to six months.  By mid August, it's a tinder box.  It's the unnatural conditions of the forest after so many suppressed fires that make it really dangerous. 

DOn't feel guilty about making changes(within reason, ha)--nature is all about change and flux. Thinning trees can simulate fire "housecleaning"--the hard part is getting a clear picture of what nature's idea of housekeeping is, not imprinting our idea on it(which we gotta remember, the past 100 years have formed a lot of unnatural forest structures as forest management has evolved).


I'm trying to be a better housekeeper than the last people who lived here. 

Nice chicken coop! I peeped at your other pix
  Thanks! 
 
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