After Sharon’s post on the Boundary Waters post-blowdown logging project, my first thought was: was it really so necessary to log at all? Blowdowns are habitat, too, and part of natural disturbance cycles that make landscapes richer. Is the need to keep nature subservient so all-consuming, and our regard for the role of dead trees so minimal that we can’t let trees in a water-rich national wilderness fall down?
Many readers here will — perhaps rightly — regard that inclination as unreasonable, or at least knee-jerk. Disturbance doesn’t need to mean megafire. The proscribed fire treatments didn’t apply to the entire blowdown area, just small parts of it, and if I lived in the region then fire prevention would probably be my first priority. I expect that, if we could ask them, the animals living there would feel that way too.
As I Googled blowdown- and disturbance-related terms, I happened across this lovely white paper, “Dead and Dying Trees: Essential for Life in the Forest,” produced by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station. It talks about how not all big dead pieces of wood are the same: living trees with decayed heartwood have exceptional habitat value, as do the dead versions of those trees, which become completely hollow.
I’d known that dead trees with hollows and holes are important, but hadn’t understood the processes that produce this. Guess I’d figured that all big dead trees would become hollow eventually. And of course hollow trees are essential for, among other creatures, purple martins, swallows and swifts — those marvelous birds who provide such a valuable hemisphere-wide pest-eating ecosystem service, and whose populations have been collapsing in large part because there are so few hollow trees on the landscape and the human-built structures they use (i.e., old chimneys) are fast vanishing too.
My question is: do readers here know of forestry projects which specifically account for decaying trees, not just snags and logs in general? And is anyone managing forests with swifts and swallows in mind?