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Creating a wildlife snag from a live tree

Dave Miller

Joined: Jun 08, 2009
Posts: 396
Location: Zone 8b: SW Washington
We are converting our backyard from invasive blackberries & a few scattered trees to a food forest.   I need to remove a couple of 20 year old douglas firs.  One of them has a metal t-post partially embedded in the trunk (oops) so cutting it down would be tricky. 

I was reading this page about creating wildlife snags from live trees, and decided to give it a shot.  Yesterday I climbed the tree and girdled it about 1/3 down from the top.  I also removed about 2/3 of the branches.  The idea is to let the tree die slowly, hopefully rotting from the inside out (vs. outside in), which provides better conditions for wildlife (cavity-nesting birds, etc.).  Above the girdle the tree will die quickly, and the top will break off, leaving an open wound for fungus to rot the tree from the inside.

I am wondering if anyone else here has tried that?  Especially on a douglas fir?  What tools did you use?  I used an axe, but if I were to do very many trees I think a draw knife would be easier.  The handle of the axe really got in the way, tangling with the branches.  Also there is not enough room to swing the axe, so I basically held the blade in my hands and pushed it up/down to peel the bark in a band about 10" wide.  However the axe did work really well for removing branches.  In many cases all it took was one good chop.

I'll try to post pictures as the tree slowly dies.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has tried this.
subject: Creating a wildlife snag from a live tree
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