Magazine article American Forests

Yellow-Cedar Mystery Solved

Magazine article American Forests

Yellow-Cedar Mystery Solved

Article excerpt

FOR THE BETTER PART OF THE LAST CENTURY, SWATHS OF yellow-cedar trees have been dying. The phenomenon, called yellow-cedar decline, has affected more than 60 percent of trees in a 600,000-acre region stretching across Alaska and British Columbia. Despite years of research, scientists were unable to find the cause of the massive die-offs. Now, scientists at the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station have found that the decline in yellow-cedar can be attributed to root freezing, a problem that stems from a lack of snow.

When a layer of snow covers the ground, trees' roots are insulated from exceptionally cold temperatures. Yellow-cedar trees have shallower root systems than many other species, particularly in early spring when smaller, new roots begin to grow, so they are exceptionally vulnerable to root freezing. The species' preference for wetter soils does not help matters, as that type of habitat, when left without an insulating layer of snow, can freeze solid and turn deadly for the tree's roots. …

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