BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Climate change has an impact on the majority of plant and animal species around the world, but some of them may be more affected than others. One of these more affected species is the yellow cedar, a tree that grows in the soggy soils spreading from Alaska to Northern California.
The yellow cedar (Cupressus nootkatensis) is also called the Nootka Cypress. The tree belongs to the Cypress family and they are native to the coasts from the northwest regions of North America. The tree has been called by many names, but yellow cedar remained the most popular due to the distinguishable color of the wood – yellow. This wood is valued for many commercial and cultural uses.
The word “nootkatensis” is derived from the discovery of the tree on the lands of Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They are considered to be part of the First Nation of Canada and were formerly referred to as the Nootka. Many other tribes apart from the Nootka used the yellow cedar wood to make canoe paddles, masks, bowls, bows, tool handles, and even baskets and hats.
The tree is a slow grower and it can reach heights of 133 feet (40 meters). It can also live for a very long time, some specimens even reaching more than 1,200 years. Several of the oldest specimens in the world are to be found in the Caren Range, on the west coast of British Columbia. One specimen there is presumed to be 1,834 years old.
The yellow cedar is only found in specific regions of northwestern North America because it requires soggy soil in order to thrive. A 2012 study conducted by U.S. Forest Service and Nature Conservancy found out why yellow cedar died off in large numbers in Alaska. Sixty or even seventy percent of the cedars in Alaska and British Columbia were affected by the decline and another area of 20,207 square miles was vulnerable as climate change continued.
Due of the continuous global warming going, it may sound strange to state that the massive decline in yellow cedar populations is caused by “root freeze”. The causes include reduced snow, site and stand characteristics, shallow rooting, and the vulnerability of the roots to low temperatures. Yellow cedars need moist soil and shallow roots to survive. When spring snow disappears quickly, these shallow roots are more susceptible to freeze in the wet soil.
Since the study appeared in 2012, the U.S. Forest Service has started a conservation and planting program in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
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