Featured News | General | Maine | New Hampshire | Science

In the Wake of a Windstorm

By: Shelby Perry, Conservation Assistant
November 2, 2017

Several recent tip-ups after a micro-burst in the Howland Research Forest in Maine.

An example of forest habitat complexity resulting from untouched tip-ups, also on Howland Research Forest.

The forests of the Northeast have been through a lot since western settlement. Clearing, burning, and grazing lie in the not-so-distant past of nearly every patch of woods in our region, and many of them have only returned to forest in the last 50 to 100 years. Forests this young have very little structural complexity. Indeed, if you walk through a patch of woods around here it is often easier to find evidence of old fields than the dead and down trees common in a mature forest. This dearth of old forest structure also translates into a lack of habitat for wildlife that relies on structurally complex forests.

A debris dam and plunge pool on the Vickie Bunnell Preserve in New Hampshire.

Everything from nesting Winter Wrens to hibernating black bears to breeding amphibians rely on the holes and exposed roots of blown over trees for part of their life cycle. What’s more; downed wood in streams and rivers helps to distribute and slow storm flows, which increases water quality and adds diversity to the aquatic habitat in the stream by forming debris dams and plunge pools, which are preferred by many species of fish. These micro-habitats are also critical to many stream vertebrates and invertebrates.

After the recent wind storm that passed over the region this past Sunday left behind so much tipped over timber, you might be wondering: With so many obvious benefits of downed trees, why don’t we see more down trees in our forests?

Humans it seems, generally dislike forest complexity. We tend to want to “clean up” a forest after an event like this. And while clearing away downed trees from lawns and trails and driveways is appropriate, heading deeper into the woods to “clean up” downed trees and pulling them out for firewood, removing them from streams, or filling in the holes beneath the up-turned roots can actually damage wildlife habitat values. Sunday’s storm has presented the Northeast with an opportunity to greatly enhance the structural complexity, and therefore improve the wildlife habitat values, of large swaths of our woodlands. So as you clean up after this recent storm, please consider leaving those tip-ups and dead trees in place. You may even be greeted by more singing wrens in the future!

On all of the properties protected by Northeast Wilderness Trust all of the down and dead wood from this storm and all future storms will be left in place. Even when trees fall over trails on our preserves we cut the trees out of the way and leave the wood in place. We look forward to watching the complexity, and therefore the diversity, of our forests grow.

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  1. BL says:

    Thank you so much for getting the word out about the value of old growth! As a professional ecologist, it pains me to see how undervalued OG communities are by forest mangers who seem to be more interested in timber sales than conservation.

  2. NWT says:

    You’re welcome, BL! We appreciate your plug for old growth forests. Our mission is all about valuing old growth forest communities and all the species that rely on them for habitat as part of the larger conservation landscape.

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