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Alaskan Yellow Cedar: Saving It, A New Report

Jan 25, 2016 01:27 PM EST
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As less and less snow has fallen over the West Coast, yellow-cedar forests across Alaska have rapidly declined within the last century. The stately conifers grow up to 78 feet tall and are historically a major part of forests north of the top of California. A new report from the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station addresses the threat to them and outlines a climate adaptation strategy designed to help save the iconic trees. 

"Our report assesses the past, current, and expected future condition of yellow-cedar forests across all land ownerships where yellow-cedar grows in Alaska," Paul Hennon, lead author of the report and a research forest pathologist based at the station's Juneau Lab, said in a news release. "The report reveals specific areas of yellow-cedar forest that are affected by tree death, those that are currently healthy but are at high risk of mortality, and those that are expected to remain healthy in the future."

Yellow-cedar is a slow-growing tree -- many are between 700 and 1,200 years old. These trees are also a culturally, economically, and ecologically valuable species that grows as far north as Prince William Sound in Alaska to as far south as the northern tip of California.

Essentially, snow is necessary to protect the trees. It covers the fine, shallow roots of yellow-cedar trees from extreme soil temperatures. Therefore, a loss of snow exposes the roots to freezing, which can kill them. 

The new report highlights four major areas of concern: 

  • A review of the silvics (the study of the life history and characteristics of forest trees -- in particular as they occur in stands and regarding environmental influences), ecology, and genetics of yellow-cedar;
  • A summary of the cause of forest decline and the role of climate;
  • Considerations for conservation and management of yellow-cedar on suitable and unsuitable habitats;
  • And new models that predict the health status of yellow-cedar forests now and in the future.

"Land managers can use our report to develop active management approaches, such as salvage harvesting of dead cedar or augmenting other tree species, in decline-affected forests, and to enhance yellow-cedar in suitable areas by planting seedlings and favoring yellow-cedar during thinnings," Hennon added in the Service's release. "Our report also can serve as a scientific foundation for developing adaptation strategies in other forests affected by climate change."

Next, researchers plan to assess the health of yellow-cedar across its entire range, from Alaska to California. Their full report can be found online

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