You can create reptile habitat in your small forest

turtle on a rock surrounded by water

Photo by Pat Welle, Western painted turtle

Article by Michael Ahr, Forest Conservationist, West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District

Woodland owners are increasingly being encouraged to build brush piles for wildlife. At West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District, we often discuss their importance for an array of wildlife. Mammals can live in the piles. Songbirds feed on insects and other organisms in brush piles. Amphibians will seek shelter under the brush and you’ll also find them being used by reptiles…the class of wildlife that we often don’t talk about nearly as often in our forested uplands.

Perhaps we have some bias. Frogs and salamanders (which are amphibians) have a certain charisma and even a level of cuteness. Reptiles like snakes and lizards don’t conjure that feeling for many of us, and might even startle us in the woods. Reptiles, however, are an important part of the woodland ecosystem. They eat many of the rodents that crawl through our woodlands and end up being prey to raptors and larger mammals.

In the Tualatin Mountains, our common snakes include various garter snake species, rubber boas, and ringneck snakes. We have alligator lizards and skinks, and if you have enough sun around a pond on your property, you may find western painted turtles.

To encourage these species on your property:

  • Build brush piles with the slash from the trees you cut. Start with larger piece on the bottom of the pile and work your way up to finer branches, and even conifer branches that still have needles, near the top to create a roof.
  • Maintain downed wood and snags. We often hear about snags relative to songbirds, but reptiles may use them too.
  • Minimize disturbance around any known hibernation sites.
  • If you have a pond, provide basking structures for turtles.
  • We don’t have much exposed rock in the Tualatin Mountains, but if you do have some, you can try to expose it so the sun warms it more for reptile basking in the summer.

For more information, view the newest publication “Reptiles in Managed Woodlands” by the Woodland Fish & Wildlife Group. To find many other wildlife publications for family woodland owners, visit