A Few Snags Near Ketchum and Stanley

A couple of weeks ago, Sierra and I were in Ketchum, Idaho taking a much needed mid-October vacation. The weather was great, and the fall color was incredible, so heading out on multiple hikes was a no-brainer. On our hikes, I found myself increasingly drawn to all of the snags. Forested areas like those found in the Sawtooth National Forest are bound to have a significant amount of standing dead trees. After all, trees don’t live forever; just like any other living being, they die – some of old age, some of disease or lightning strike or any number of other reasons. But death for a tree does not spell the end of its life giving powers. In the case of snags, it’s really just the beginning.

Death might come quick for a tree, but its rate of decomposition is slow. Fungi move in to begin the process and are joined by myriad insects, mosses, lichens, and bacteria. The insects provide food for birds, like woodpeckers and sapsuckers who hammer out holes in the standing trunk. As primary cavity nesters, they also nest in some of these holes. Secondary cavity nesters make a home in these holes as well. This includes a whole suite of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Without the habitat provided by snags, many of these animals would disappear from the forest.

Eventually snags fall, and as the rotting continues, so does the dead tree’s contribution to new life. It’s at this point that snags become nurse logs or nurse stumps, providing habitat and nutrients for all sorts of plants, fungi, and other organisms.

Unfortunately I can’t bring a you a complete representation of the many snags of Sawtooth National Forest. You’ll have to visit sometime to see them all for yourself. Instead, what follows is a small sampling of a few of the snags we saw near Ketchum and Stanley.

new cavities in new snag

old cavities in old snag

knobby snag with lichens

lone snag on hillside

double-trunked snag

fallen snag

snags are more alive than you might think

just look at those cavities

For more snag and nurse log fun, check out the following episodes of Boise Biophilia:


This will be the last post for a few weeks as I will be taking a break to finish working on a related project. I hope to be back sometime in December with more posts, as well as the unveiling of what I have been working on. In the meantime, you can stay updated by following Awkward Botany on TwitterΒ or Facebook.


7 thoughts on “A Few Snags Near Ketchum and Stanley

  1. I give forest tours and I always point out the value of snags. Now I can explain that , after the snags fall, they are “nurse logs.” Neat term. Thank you.

  2. Living in an area of NSW , Australia, where a tremendous amount of clearing has been followed up with lots of ‘tidying up’, there is now a movement to create tree hollows and protect older trees, sometimes by removal of any dangerous branches and fashioning holes and crevices to suit specific wildlife.

    • king1394, Thank you for that info that holes and crevices are fashioned in snags to suit specific wildlife- it’s a great idea and another very interesting tidbit for my forest tours!

  3. Pingback: A Few More Snags Near Ketchum – awkward botany

  4. Hi – as usual, very interesting!
    Where did the term “snags” come from?
    Down here “snag” is slang for a sausage πŸ™‚ – usually on the BBQ.
    Other uses include it referring to a fallen tree along a river or creek (the dead tree “snags” or entangles stuff drifting past).
    We always called a dead tree in amongst a stand of trees or in the bush a “stag” tree (usually eucalyptus) – and I never asked myself why until I saw this post!

    • That’s a great question. I have no idea where the term “snag” comes from. I like it as a term for sausage πŸ™‚ A fallen tree in a river or creek makes a lot of sense. But why snag for a standing dead tree? I’m really not sure. Something I’ll have to investigate further. Thanks for reading!

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