Seeing the Forest for the Cedars

In early April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Alaskan yellow cedars may need the protection of the federal government to curb a decline brought on by recent climate change and logging. While the cedars grow throughout northern California and are commonly found in forests all the way up British Columbia, the trees are most prevalent in Alaska, especially in the Tongass National Forest. However, statewide, over 70% of the trees have died in Alaska, compared to their peak numbers of the last century.

Historically, Alaskan yellow cedars relied on prolonged snow cover to protect their shallow and fragile roots. Due to warmer spring and summer temperatures melting the snowpack earlier, the trees’ roots suffer prolonged exposed to detrimental air temperatures. The result: over 600,000 acres of dead yellow cedar forests. If the greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures continue to rise, the species will be driven to extinction.

Exacerbating the climactic threats, loggers prize the tree as a high-value commodity. At the same time, the yellow cedar is a cornerstone within the forests of Alaska where indigenous people use the trees for medical purposes, carving, and ceremonies. On top of their value to native Alaskan communities, yellow cedars hold enormous amounts of carbon dioxide. The loss of this species would come at a significant cost to the planet, releasing millions of tons of stored CO2 in an exponential cascade that would accelerate future warming.

If the yellow cedars are granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, they would be the first Alaskan Tree to receive such help.

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Originally published at

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