Coarse woody debris (CWD) is the decomposition of logs on the forest floor that provides nutrients to plants, habitat for wildlife, and food for insects and microorganisms.
Decaying wood is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem in the forest. They provide nursery-like conditions for trees to regenerate, and dead wood plays a critical role in providing shelter for wildlife species that are important in maintaining a bio-diverse forest.
IMPORTANCE IN WILDLIFE
CWD provides habitat to animals such as the snowshoe hare, the ruffled grouse, woodpeckers, variations of shrew and other small mammals, as well as bigger mammals like bobcats and black bears. Having CWD in your forest supports healthy populations of these animals, which not only helps with the biodiversity of your forest but makes it so you can enjoy the wildlife as well.
IMPORTANCE IN FOREST HEALTH
CWD can provide a significant amount of organic matter to the soil, which is crucial for tree growth. The decaying matter has the capability to provide nitrogen, potassium, and phosphate into the soil to be reused by other plants. The health of the soil is directly responsible for the health of the trees. It also helps hold moisture in the forest floor during dry spells.
IMPORTANCE IN CARBON STORAGE
CWD and organic matter store carbon in the forest, prolonging the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Some tree species that are resistant to rot could take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose, releasing carbon much slower than if that wood would be burned or used in a short term manner.
HOW CAN I CREATE COARSE WOODY DEBRIS IN MY FOREST?
Coarse woody debris happens naturally in forests already. Damages that occur to the forest such as wind storms, ice storms, fire, insects/disease, and competition between trees can be responsible for tree death and decay. When you're harvesting wood from your property, leaving the stumps, tops, and branches of trees can all help create CWD. Cutting down trees that are in decline can also help create CWD, but leaving these trees standing can also be beneficial to wildlife, and it will fall down eventually anyway!
For more information, see the DNR guidelines for CWD at