What Good is a Dead Tree?

Standing dead trees, called SNAGS, provide birds and mammals with shelters to raise young and raptors with unobstructed vantage points.

Woodpeckers and creepers feast on the wood-eating insects and provide “sawdust” for ants to process. Deer eat the lichen growing on the trunks.

SNAGS provide homes and fast food for woodboring insects, ants and termites which can help decompose the tree and release its nutrients.

Even while rotting a SNAG’S roots help anchor soil and prevent erosion. Rich in humus, a fallen tree can serve as a nurse log for seedlings.

Death is part of the forest cycle. In an undisturbed forest it may take a century for a 12 foot, 3 inch Ponderosa Pine to decompose but the whole forest benefits from the slow release of nutrients and by-products.

Some SNAG Facts with Major Impacts

  • Over 550 species of birds, 300 species of mammals, 450 species of amphibians and reptiles and nearly all fish benefit from SNAGS for food, nesting or shelter.
  • Only 30 bird species are capable of making their own nest cavities in trees. Another 80 animal species depend upon previously excavated or natural tree holes for their nests.
  • The insulation of a tree trunk home allows many animal species to survive high summer and low winter temperature extremes.
  • Tree cavities and loose bark are used by many animals to store their food supplies.
  • Insects living in dead wood eat thousands of forest pests, which can harm living trees.
  • Fish and amphibians hide under trees that have fallen into the water.


The forest neighborhood changes, yet the way animals, plants and people depend on each other remains the same. Even as a tree dies, it continues to help sustain life to animal families and eventually to new plants and trees and the cycle begins again. Hundreds of thousands of SNAGS would be saved in America each year if people were careful when cutting dead wood.

REMEMBER, “There’s Life in Dead Trees”