Climate change is causing yellow cedar decline. But not enough for an ESA listing.

Lauren Oakes paddles to a research site in the West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness of Southeast Alaska. (Image credit: Lauren Oakes)
Dead stands of yellow cedar in Southeast Alaska. (Image credit: Lauren Oakes)

Yellow cedar — the culturally and commercially valuable tree species found throughout Southeast Alaska — will not be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

On Oct. 7, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service published its decision.

And while the agency suggests climate change is the reason yellow cedar has been declining across its range, it said there’s still “wide distribution [of yellow cedar] on the landscape” and that factored in to its decision not to list it.

So far, about a million acres of trees have died from Alaska to California. An Endangered Species Act listing would have made it difficult to log the tree.

Brian Buma has been tracking yellow cedar’s decline. He’s an ecologist at the University of Colorado. He says researchers don’t understand why some stands of yellow cedar have been resilient to warming and others have not.

Still, Buma says, the decision not to list it shouldn’t be a reflection of the tree’s long term status.

“It’s not a clean bill of health,” Buma said. “Them saying, ‘It’s not listed,’ I’m afraid people will see that and say, ‘Oh, it’s fine.’ And it’s not fine.”

Buma says yellow cedar might not go extinct in the next 20 years or so. But the tree’s decline is expected to continue as the temperature warms.

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