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Yellow-cedar Decline

Forests in DeclineYellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis; YC) is experiencing a climate change-induced mortality event, impacting approximately 580,000 acres throughout southeast Alaska. Decreasing spring snowpack at low elevations leads to shallow root freezing and subsequent tree death in YC that are growing in wet soils. For more information on this phenomenon, click on the icon to the left.

Due to its decay-resistant nature, YC snags remain standing and retain their wood properties for decades after tree death. This standing dead timber is of very high quality, is highly desired by builders, and provides a potential alternative to live-tree harvest. The harvest of dead old-growth YC could provide an emerging opportunity for small-scale rural timber mills in southeast Alaska to produce value-added wood products and provide another means of sustaining timber jobs and resource dependent communities surrounded by the Tongass National Forest. YC fieldwork POWThis is timely given the challenges of maintaining an industry as the Forest Service transitions to second-growth management and harvest in the Tongass over the next 15 to 20 years. ACRC and partners are working on projects that will lead to a greater understanding of the YC product market in southeast Alaska, identify inefficiencies, and determine some of the economic and ecological challenges and benefits to communities of further developing these markets in the region.

Photo credit: A. Bidlack

Current Research

Yellow-cedar is one of four commercial species of trees found in the region; of those four species, it has the second smallest forest presence based on volume. However, when sales value (market price per thousand board feet) is taken into consideration, YC – along with Sitka spruce – has historically provided enough revenue to make USFS timber sales profitable.  The majority of live YC currently harvested in southeast Alaska is exported in the round, but round log export markets are hesitant about, and historically have not purchased, logs from dead YC.  In contrast, there are many small-scale mills throughout the region that utilize YC, and many are interested in–and willing to harvest and process–YC snags.  However, because most YC is exported in the round, there has been little incentive for the USFS to track costs associated with processing YC or to examine the market value of value-added YC products. We are starting a project that will help fill the data gap in value-added YC products by examining the feasibility of harvesting, transporting, and manufacturing products from YC snags.  It will also potentially bolster the existing market of value-added products, simultaneously protecting and possibily expanding job opportunities.  We plan to set up a demonstration project in the field and track, record, and analyze the costs associated with the harvest and manufacturing of products created from YC snags, as well as the market value of those products. We are working with partners from the Pacific Northwest Research Station, the USFS Alaska Region, the Alaska Division of Economic Development, and the Alaska Division of Forestry.

Yellow Cedar Salvage LogsYellow Cedar Salvage Logs
Photo by Paul HennonPhoto by Paul Hennon

Current Research

YC Forest

ACRC is currently involved in several yellow-cedar ecology projects related to decline, salvage logging, and range expansion. Salvage logging, like any management activity, has an ecological impact, and understanding the scope of that impact is important in terms of judging the overall value of salvage. Minimal impact to remaining vegetation, fauna, and successional trajectories is typically desirable. Yellow-cedar (dead or alive) does not typically provide much wildlife habitat because of its decay-resistance (with the notable exception of bats, which tend to preferentially use both yellow-cedar and western redcedar (Thuja plicata) for diurnal roosting sites). Dead YC stands may transition to either western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) or western redcedar dominated stands, which have very different market values. This suggests that there may be opportunities for stewardship replanting of western redcedar in harvested stands.  We are beginning a project to monitor the ecological composition of salvaged and unharvested stands so we can describe the full scope of effects of yellow cedar salvage activities, and will start a restoration project involving replanting redcedar seedlings in both harvested and unharvested areas. This project is funded by the Pacific Northwest Research Station and USFS State and Private Forestry.

Another project supported in part by ACRC is examining yellow-cedar establishment and spread at a northeast range edge near Juneau, Alaska. John KrapekJohn Krapek, a graduate student at UAF, is interested in understanding (1) where on the landscape (e.g., elevation, slope, landscape position) new yellow-cedar populations establish, and (2) once a new population is established, where the new yellow-cedar regeneration occurs within the stand. During the 2014 and 2015 field seasons, John and UAS faculty member Brian Buma mapped the geographic boundaries of 10 yellow-cedar populations in the vicinity of Juneau to examine establishment patterns, and surveyed approximately thirty subplots across the study sites to examine yellow-cedar regeneration dynamics. Initial results at the plot scale show distinct patterns in yellow-cedar seedling frequency and establishment success correlated with existing forest plant community and soil drainage.

Yellow-cedar forest in decline; photo courtesy of Robin Mulvey.

John Krapek and Alex Botelho; photo coutesy of Mark Rainery.


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