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article imageYellow cedar could become a noticeable casualty of climate change

By Karen Graham     Jan 7, 2017 in Environment
Climate change is having an impact on many plant and animal species around the world, and some species are affected by the warming trend more than others. Such is the case for a tree that thrives in soggy soils from Alaska to Northern California.
The yellow cedar, also called the Nootka Cypress,, or Cupressus nootkatensis is a species of trees in the cypress family native to the coastal regions of northwestern North America. It is called by many names, yet yellow cedar has stuck because of its distinctive yellow wood. It is also valued for its commercial and cultural uses.
Actually, the word "nootkatensis" in its name is derived from its discovery on the lands of a First Nation of Canada, those lands of the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who were formerly referred to as the Nootka.
Yellow-cedar trees grow in California to Prince William Sound in Alaska. Yellow-cedar decline occurs...
Yellow-cedar trees grow in California to Prince William Sound in Alaska. Yellow-cedar decline occurs along a 600-mile zone from British Columbia to southeast Alaska; and on about one-half million acres in southeast Alaska.
Colin Shanley, The Nature Conservancy
Many First Nation tribes, including the Nootka, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people have used the yellow cedar for canoe paddles, masks, bowls, bows and tool handles, as well as the bark in weaving baskets and hats, according to Phys.Org.
The yellow cedar is a slow grower and can reach heights of up to 40 meters (133 feet). The trees can also live a very long time, with some living more than 1,200 years. The Caren Range on the west coast of British Columbia is home to the oldest Nootka Cypress specimens in the world, with one specimen found to be 1,834 years old.
Climate change and the Nootka Cypress
The Nootka needs soggy soil in order to thrive, and that is why it is found in only certain regions of northwestern North America. In 2012, an extensive study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service and the Nature Conservancy found the cause of a die-off of yellow cedar trees across a large swatch of their Alaska range.
At that time the decline in yellow cedars affected 60 to 70 percent of the trees in forests covering 600,000 acres in Alaska and British Columbia. It was also found that an even wider stretch of around 20,207 square miles was vulnerable as climate change continues, reports I-Tech Post.
Dying yellow-cedar tree. Photo: Paul Hennon
Dying yellow-cedar tree. Photo: Paul Hennon
U.S. Forest Service
So what specifically was causing the die-offs? It may sound strange, especially with climate warming going on, but "root freeze" was the culprit. The 2012 report stated the decline was related to a combination of causes that included reduced snow, site and stand characteristics, shallow rooting, and the unique vulnerability of the roots to freezing in low temperatures.
The yellow cedar needs moist soil and a shallow root system to access nitrogen. And this combination of moist soil and shallow roots was behind the die-offs. When spring snow levels are reduced because of global warming, the shallow roots are more susceptible to freezing in the wet soil.
Since that 2012 report, the US Forest Service, along with scientists and other partners have been using the new information to develop a comprehensive conservation program. Right now, there are ongoing projects in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska on planting and thinning to favor yellow-cedar on suitable well-drained productive soils.
More about yellow cedar, Climate change, root freeze, Endangered species, western north america
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