Hitting a snag is a good thing for environment

A pileated woodpecker pecks at a dead tree in Beidler Forest.

Mark Musselman

They're called snags, dead trees that can remain standing for years. Useless, eyesores, deadfall waiting to happen -- that's what a lot of people think.

But that's not correct. State wildlife managers say "snags" are important to any number of birds and other critters, supplying insect food and holes for shelter.

They are considered vital to the red-headed woodpecker (the Woody Woodpecker), one of the most recognizable birds and a species of concern in South Carolina. S.C. Natural Resources Department biologists are encouraging people to leave four or five snags per acre in woodlots.

Holes in the trees are nested by as many as two of every three bird species in a wooded area, including bluebirds, wood ducks, owls, chickadees and nuthatches, according to DNR. The holes are used by unusual mammals such as flying squirrels and fox squirrels. Raptors perch on the trees to watch hunting grounds.

"People hate a dead snag, but we really do need them," said Nathan Dias of the Cape Romain Bird Sanctuary.

Around a house, though, it's a good idea to leave a snag standing only when it can be done safely. The trees can stand for decades, but they eventually fall, said Mark Musselman, education director at National Audubon's Beidler Forest sanctuary in Harleyville.

"At any time it could go, and there's still a lot of mass in those trees. When they fall on the boardwalk (at Beidler), they pancake it."

Did you know?

--Dead trees are called "snags" because the prime definition of a snag is "a piece, part or point that sticks out."

--Among creatures that use snags: Downy, hairy, red-bellied, pileated and red-headed woodpeckers; bluebirds; wood ducks; great crested flycatchers; chickadees; nuthatches; hawks; barred owls; screech owls; kestrels; bats; gray, fox and flying squirrels; raccoons; frogs; snakes; honeybees; wasps and spiders