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Storm Debris Use

Finished wildlife habitat
Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Storm Debris Use

After Michigan's fickle weather leaves you with a mess (or messes) to clean up, you may be wondering what to do with all of that storm debris. Some Michigan municipalities have curbside brush collection, and many more have drop-off brush collection areas. Check with your local municipality for more information, to see what options may be available to you.

However, if you own property, know someone that does, or have a conservation/wildlife club nearby, you may be able to utilize the debris material to create habitat for wildlife.


Aaron Hiday

Many of Michigan's wild animals, including small mammals and bird species can benefit from the construction of brush piles. They are not very hard to construct, and they can put that unwanted brush waste to good use! Whether they are on the smaller side, or a great big heap, a brush pile can help the diverse array of wildlife on your property.

Here's how to do it:

After finding a suitable spot for the brush pile, start with the largest branches that you have for a "base layer" by placing them parallel to each other. The idea is to get the next layer at least 4 to 5 inches off the ground, so don't be afraid to stack branches up or utilize natural features like downed logs, rocks, and uneven ground as part of your base layer to reach an adequate height. Once you have the base layer down, begin to lay more branches perpendicular to the base layer (the author sometimes uses old, but clean "junk" pallets for this step instead). This will create space underneath the pile for small animals like rabbits and squirrels to hide from predators. You can then begin to alternate the direction of the rest of your larger branches, for a few layers, to create a sturdy base structure on which to build the rest of the brush pile.

Once the base structure is built, you can then begin to place any smaller and thinner branches to start "covering" the pile. Any branches, limbs, and brush you have on hand can work, but brush collected from conifers (like pine, spruce, and cedar trees for example) tends to work best. You can even utilize live Christmas trees at the end of the Holiday season, provided there are no artificial decorations still clinging to them. During this step and the rest of the build, make sure that you leave access to the space you created at the bottom in the previous step.


With a sturdy structure coming together, you are then free to build your brush pile(s) as large or as small as you want to benefit different species. As mentioned before, rabbits and other small mammals will utilize small piles as long as there is enough cover to protect them from predators. Larger piles can provide cover/habitat for songbirds and other animals. If you have plenty of material to build brush piles of significant enough height and/or width, larger mammals like deer can use them for bedding, and upland birds like turkeys can utilize them for nesting habitat to help hide their eggs from predators.

So, whether you are still cleaning up from the latest Michigan weather, or know that there will always be more to come, consider utilizing your downed storm branches and brush to help make habitat for Michigan's wildlife!