Let us Praise—and Keep—the Dead

Dead trees are critical components of a healthy forest ecosystem

George Wuerthner writes about the value of dead trees and how removing them can lead to impoverished forest ecosystems :

Let us Praise—and Keep—the Dead – George Wuerthner, Forest Magazine






  1. Virginia Avatar

    What an interesting validation of keeping the dead trees! I worked on Forest Service timber crews for several years, marking trees for timber sales. It was a tough job for me, as a “greenie”, and I usually was in trouble for not marking enough trees,trying to save some of the bigger trees that obviously had cavities for bird nesting, and my general attitude about marking trees. I remember after they logged the Northfork of the Shoshone, my supervisor asked me how I thought it looked and I told him it was just too depressing for me. I am sure that was why I was not re-hired after that year. I wish he would read this article, along with the other foresters who can’t wait to cut as many beetle-killed trees as they can as fast as they can.

  2. jdubya Avatar

    “”But a new perspective is slowly taking root among forest managers, based on growing evidence that forest ecosystems have no waste or harvestable surplus. Rather, it seems that forests reinvest their biological capital back into the ecosystem, and removal of wood—whether dead or alive—can lead to biological impoverishment.””

    This is a new idea? Really? I did not know people trained in forestry had such a poor grasp on ecology. What do they think is used to grow those big trees? Air?

    I can see how people might find complex and controversial the issue that dying salmon enrich the quality of a forest by bringing nutrients from the ocean back into the hills, but dead trees helping baby trees?? Ain’t that elemental?

  3. Linda Hunter Avatar

    I’ve just been reading a book called Wildlife in the Garden which was first published in 1983 that talks at length on the interdependency of wildlife and trees and the “food web” where the author specifically brings downed sections of trees and rotting logs to enhance his backyard. This is not a new concept so I wonder how it slipped under the radar for so long. Sort of like when I moved here and the timber companies were blaming the spotted owl for all their woes and loggers were targeting environmentalists for their anger. . meanwhile the timber companies were quietly shipping all their jobs overseas. The spotted owl (“I like mine fried”) turned out to be a great diversion for the people while big business changed the industry.

  4. Howard Jones Avatar
    Howard Jones

    There is some logic in leaving dead trees in place. Are we, however, going to let the fires run their course during the summer? Particularly in the West, dead trees don’t quickly rot like they do in the East or far west. Dead trees become a huge source of kindling.

    In Western Wyoming, where I live, I would be extremely nervous to have large stands of dead pines in Bridger National Forest. Even under the best conditions, forest fires are difficult to extinguish. When abnormally high levels of dead (dry) firewood is added to the equation, I think we’re flirting with disaster.

    1. Brian Ertz Avatar

      When abnormally high levels of dead (dry) firewood is added to the equation, I think we’re flirting with disaster.

      I think what constitutes normal vs. abnormal levels of dead trees might be up for debate. If what we want to do is prevent fire – that’s one debate. If what we want to do is preserve intact ecosystems, that’s another.

      I’ve read George and heard interviews where he’s talking about exactly what you mention, that in more moist climates such as those back east and on the west coast, fungus and microbial activity is largely the catalyst to recycling nutrients back into the system. In the semi-arid west – it’s fire.

      Whatever one’s point of view, I think it’s clear that when you remove dead wood from a forest, especially at the scale that is being done and prescribed – you’re depreciating nutrient cycling and simplifying ecological processes and conditions that are necessary for innumerable plant, insect, microbial, and wildlife species. The consequences of altering systems in this why are surely more complex and dynamic than the “fuel speak” narrative that has taken hold during the past decade of the Bush Administration (extractive interests have had a hold on the conversation). Perhaps the consequences even depreciate ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, water filtration, wildlife production, maybe even exacerbating conditions more prone to fire than natural conditions would otherwise be. George has spoken of this regarding forest “thinning” as well, how opening understories may produce exactly the opposite result as was intended as wind and dry conditions can often result in certain stands, exacerbating catastrophic fire conditions.

      Ultimately, I think the article is a breath of fresh air and I believe that the degree to which we anthropogenically manicure forests is ‘flirting with disaster’ more than anything else.

      Then again, I think when we talk about urban interface versus deeper forest, it’s apple’s and oranges from a “should” management perspective. From what I understand, too often the aggressive prescriptions developed for urban interfaces are applied deep, away from development, where there is little threat of conflict.

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Brian Ertz