In the profession of forestry, we cut trees to meet objectives. Those objectives typically are wood products and to regenerate the stand, preferably through natural tree seedling regeneration. Another reason we might cut is to improve the stand by removing inferior trees to concentrate site resources (sunlight, water, and nutrients) on the better trees. This has the effect of making a forest stand grow bigger, better, and faster.
The conversation tends to go something like this:
"Does the tree pose a danger to people or livestock, maybe pets?"
"Do you need the firewood?"
"Well, I thought I could saw up some of it for firewood."
It's pretty dangerous to cut a large, hollow tree. You'd really be better off thinning out some of the smaller junk trees. This would improve your woodlot, be easier and safer on you.
"But shouldn't big old trees be cut?"
"No, not necessarily."
That's a loaded question and requires more than a sentence or two to explain, and never mind the fact that nature has taken care of big, old, hollow trees long before we were here.
To begin, you shouldn't be alarmed that some of the trees in your woods are dead or dying. The woods will loose about 2% of its trees annually, through mortality from age or competition with other trees. This is normal, desirable even.
Big old trees, even hollow ones, can be major mast producers. White oak, for example, tends to produce more and more acorns with age. That's a lot of food for wildlife.
Hollow trees, or trees with cavities, also provide cover. Squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines, and raccoons take advantage of the shelter a hollow tree provides. Song birds will use cavities in trees as nesting sites. Consequently, even when improving a woodlot through thinning, if wildlife is one of your objectives; it is desirable to leave some of these big, old, hollow trees. Even dead and rotting trees have value for the above reasons.
So, should you cut it?
Contributed by Christopher Jones, Service Forester with the PA DCNR Bureau of Forestry
Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry foresters are available for assistance to private landowners free of charge. Interested landowners can call 814-472-1862814-472-1862.