I own 5 acres of forest land in Northern Idaho. On one part there are many different species but many have died. There are a lot of dead birch trees laying around.

Am I helping or hurting by picking up all the fallen branches, sticks, etc. from the ground and raking up what appears to be years of dead leaves? I'm trying to help but now I'm having doubts.

How can I help and not hinder and still clean up?

  • 4
    Pamela, welcome! I'm tempted to simply write "leave it alone", but would you please tell us first, why you want to clean up?
    – Stephie
    Jul 14, 2016 at 6:41
  • Trees love to "eat" decomposing tree mater, so why not let nature take its course? Leaving the leaves on the ground will also help with keeping water near the surface. Jul 15, 2016 at 4:55
  • The "lots of dead birches" might suggest that something is killing them selectively. In theory removing dead bits might help reduce the spread of the pathogen, though not if it is soil borne.
    – That Idiot
    Jul 15, 2016 at 13:27
  • Black thumb...sorry but plants DON'T EAT anything especially decomposing organic matter. The decomposing organic matter feeds the micro and macro organisms which stabilize the soil chemistry and assist plants for uptake of chemicals necessary to produce food for themselves!! Allowing 'nature' to take its course would mean 100's, thousands, millions of years. Us humans are trying to enjoy gardens that we are able to produce and maintain within our lifetime!
    – stormy
    Jul 16, 2016 at 22:52
  • Hey there Idiot, birches are SHORT LIVED. If the birches are indigenous they are considered UNDERSTORY or predecessors of more long lived trees/forest. If the birches are European Paper Birch those trees are at the top of the WEED list! Out competing the normal flora and screwing up environments for the long term forests.
    – stormy
    Jul 16, 2016 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


Picking up debris is just fine. It will help reduce fires, (which are completely natural, normal and necessary)...really tough question. But picking up debris, getting it away from your home and building some debris piles for the wild animals. Is the best one can do. Leave the 'duff' alone if you can. It is organic matter in the process of decomposition, crucial for great soil...even if you won't be alive to enjoy the soil, your progeny will.

Keep an eye on the duff. I have seen first hand that fire can travel through thick duff without a puff of smoke. Then burst into flame...taking days, weeks before igniting. Get trees away from your home (you don't happen to have a true log home do you)?, wood storage, fuel, batteries. If you have a true log home you are a very lucky person. A true log home with 12 to 18" diameter logs is the safest place to be in a forest fire. They've actually saved lives of fire fighters. Also great in floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earth quakes...seriously.

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