ANCHORAGE — Four conservation groups have petitioned the U.S. Interior Department to list an Alaska tree as threatened or endangered because of climate change.
Yellow cedars for centuries have been carved by Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people for canoe paddles and totem poles. They could remove a lengthwise strip of bark from a living tree to use for weaving baskets and hats, and as backing in blankets because the trees heal themselves.
Yellow cedars can resist insects and rot and live more than 1,000 years, but their shallow roots are vulnerable to freezing. Climate warming has been deadly.
In a 2012 paper, U.S. Forest Service researchers concluded that climate warming has meant less snow and less insulation for the ground. Elevated mortality began around 1880-90 and peaked in the 1970s and ’80s, it says.
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Across 781 square miles of Alaska’s Panhandle, more than 70 percent of yellow cedar trees have died.
The petition was filed to take steps toward curbing warming, said Kiersten Lippmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. The other groups filing for protection are The Boat Co., a nonprofit educational organization; the Greater Southeast Alaska Conservation Community; and Greenpeace.