Tall and majestic, yellow-cedar is a culturally and economically valuable tree that has been dying off on more than a half-million acres for the past 100 years in southeast Alaska and nearby British Columbia. In fact, yellow-cedar decline is now viewed as one of the best documented examples of the effect of climate change on a forest tree species.
Despite this die-off, however, a recent U.S. Forest Service report on the condition of the great coastal forests of southeast and south-central Alaska show that live trees in the region store 1.3 billion tons of biomass and carbon.
In fact, surprisingly, significant volumes of carbon and biomass are also stored in snags and dead trees in the state.
For example, 47 percent of the carbon and biomass on the Kenai Peninsula is in dead white spruce, killed by bark beetles in the 1990s. Still, one of the contributors to this important biomass and carbon sequestration in Alaska’s forests is the yellow-cedar.
Even with this die-off from changing climate conditions, the amount of living yellow-cedar has essentially remained unchanged since the last inventory by the Forest Service. The report, published by the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, suggests that this stabilization of yellow-cedar stock means regeneration and growth of young trees has offset mortality over the past five years.