June 21, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 25

Climate change to bring new trees?

Record snows followed by rain in November toppled a 70-year-old yellow cedar near 1 Mile Haines Highway, a tree apparently planted by pioneering farm woman Minnie Vermiere.

Yellow cedar, actually a type of cypress, fares marginally in the Chilkat Valley. There’s a 20-acre stand of it behind the former Army tank farm on Lutak Road, and a few individual trees, like Vermiere’s, that were transplanted from Lutak to along the Piedad Road hillside.

But the species’ northern range along Lynn Canal is generally considered around St. James Bay, some 45 miles south of Haines.

A U.S.-Canada study currently under way may help determine whether the yellow cedar and other tree species that flourish in places south of the Chilkat Valley will migrate – or can be moved – north with long-term climate change.

The study includes an experimental plot recently planted in the upper valley near Glacier Creek. Government forestry agencies and wood-products companies are funding the $1 million effort.

The “assisted migration adaptation trial” is aimed at better understanding climate tolerances of different tree species, looking at the growth and health of reforestation seed sources from British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest when planted across a range of climates and latitudes, according to the study’s website.

“Seed sources” are trees grown to provide seeds for reforestation efforts. The study’s information will be used to identify species and seed sources best adapted to future climates of tree-planting sites.

Of interest to foresters and timber companies, who grow trees for a living, are predictions that the climate could be 3 to 4 degrees Celsius warmer when trees are harvested 60 to 80 years after planting, according to the study’s website.

The Glacier Creek test plot is one of 48, five-acre arboreta ranging from Sacramento to Whitehorse, Y.T. Each will be planted with 3,200 seedlings. Growth and health of the trees will be evaluated every five years.

The study is expected to continue for at least 30 years. The 15 species in the test plot will include sub-alpine fir, amabilis fir, grand fir, western red cedar, yellow cypress, western hemlock, trembling aspen, paper birch, Sitka spruce, western larch, Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, western white pine and ponderosa pine.

Haines-area forester Roy Josephson said it’s not clear how the stand of yellow cedars at Lutak started here. The stand is in a wet area, and most of the trees in it are between six and eight inches in diameter. Mature yellow cedar can reach two feet in diameter and 100 feet in height.

“It may be they don’t have a competitive advantage on the upland sites, but on the wet sites, they do. They find a little niche,” Josephson said.

Hazel Englund, 95, this week said her younger brother Robert Vermiere brought the Piedad-area trees over from Lutak. One of the planted cedars stands next to her hillside home at 2 Mile. There were other cedars in her yard at one time, but they were done in by a snowplow, Englund said.

The cedar isn’t the only rare tree on Englund’s hillside lot. Behind the house is a differently shaped, light-colored spruce. Englund said she smuggled that one out of Sweden during a visit in 1972. It’s healthy, she said.