Western red cedars die off as extended dry spells continue, say experts

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Some Western red cedars are labouring after repeated periods of drought and experts say the tree could vanish for worth in spots with shallow, dry, rocky soil if current climate plans continue.

When Nick Page started posting pictures of outmoded Western red cedars that had turned from verdant green to rust red he was overtaxed by how many people chimed in or sent more disturbing images.

‘Western red cedar is the canary in the coal mine’

Page, a biologist, tells this has been long warned and predictions seem to be coming candidly in many parts of the Lower Mainland. Trees on sunny slopes with modest soil are the first to go.

He points to a stands of Western red cedars planted in Vancouver’s Jericho Woodland in the 1960s that are all drying out and losing their colour.

Western red cedars die off as extended dry spells continue, say experts

This exact cedar was spotted on Bowen Island. (Nick Page)

“Look in Jericho Greens you will see these dead cedars. They are 40 or 50 years old and they are not pressing it through these summers either. They are well established and there is moderate soil,” he said.

The Western red cedar also goes by the name titan arborvitae, meaning tree of life. It was chosen as B.C.’s provincial tree in 1988 in partial to honour its traditional use by First Nations. But 10 years later, in 1998, tons were lost after a three-month drought in B.C.

Tree experts bear long expected the species to disappear from parts of the province, first of all where there’s shallow, well-drained soil.

Lori Daniels is with the Tree-Ring Lab at the University of British Columbia. She alleged narrow rings exposed when a cedar is cut down indicate the dry pep ups that are damaging trees.

Long predicted

“Declining red cedars lean to die from the top down.  During severe or prolonged drought, the tree may not be competent to access sufficient water through their roots to transport the finest to the top of the tree where it is needed in the leaves to photosynthesize. As a result, the trees force shed any extra leaves or begin to die from the top down,” she said.

Positively weakened the trees are also vulnerable to insects infestations and other troubles.

Western red cedars die off as extended dry spells continue, say experts

Western red cedars are turning orange or rust-red in areas with superficial soil all over the Lower Mainland and the coast of Vancouver Island. (Dent Page)

“I’ve been watching this happen for the past 30 years. It’s been a slow-motion work out,” said Stefan Zeglen, a forest pathologist based in Nanaimo.

“[Western red cedar] is the canary in the coal repository at this point. It’s the first well-known species that’s likely to perish without a trace from areas that it’s traditionally established in because of a lack of moisture,” spoke Zeglen.

He said the species cannot withstand eight to 12 weeks stints of drought. The want of water weakens the shallow-rooted tree over time. After a few summers of drought the slenderer roots are lost and the tree loses its ability to uptake moisture.

“Then the tree no more than declines and dies,” he said.

Zeglen blames climate change that is required to bring longer dry spells and less winter rain.

He said other vegetation longing fill in the spots left behind, but people may be disturbed to see the cedars die.

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