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What looks to park users like a cottonwood snag in Veterans Park — the remains of a century-old tree that lost a limb June 2, injuring a Billings man — is for birds and other wildlife a needed habitat.

The Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society and Billings Parks and Recreation Department are working together to raise awareness over the role of dead and dying trees, launching a wildlife tree tag campaign Friday when City Forester Steve McConnell tacked a new sign to the snag.

The signs — about 30 are ready to hang, with many more to follow — identify snags in Billings parks and other areas as wildlife habitat trees that are “saved for food, shelter and nesting,” the signs say.

The diamond-shaped signs, which cost $14 apiece, include the city’s urban forestry website,, and McConnell’s phone number, 406-237-6227.

They also feature an image that won’t be there in future signs: a picture of a woodpecker that’s not native to Yellowstone County. Audubon Society board members Steve and Deb Regele of Joliet said a northern flicker or downy woodpecker would be more suitable candidates for the next run of signs.

Those upcoming signs, Steve Regele said, will probably also have a QR code that can tell park-users carrying their smart phone more about Billings’ urban forest.

“It’s cool to see education, conservation and activism come together,” he said, minutes before McConnell wielded his hammer to officially initiate the outreach.

Trees host native species, but they’re also a temporary home for migrating birds headed down to Mexico, Central or South America for the winter and north in the spring.

“The Yellowstone River is an important corridor” for migratory birds searching for snags and trees to rest and, perhaps, root out some tasty insects, Steve Regele said. “To them, Billings looks like a big green oasis.”

About 25 percent of all wildlife — not just birds — rely on trees, both the vertical and horizontal variety, for habitat, McConnell said.

“We want to maintain this bird habitat,” said Deb Regele. “A lot of birds rely on dead and dying trees.”

On Friday, her husband, president of the local Audubon Society board of directors, was helpfully toting two David Allen Sibley books. Not only is the renowned ornithologist and illustrator famous for his field guide, “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” but he’s also the author of another of Regele’s favorites, “The Sibley Guide to Trees.”

“He talks about the importance of the relationship between the two,” Steve Regele explained. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.