Western redcedar

The western redcedar, or Thuja plicata, is alternatively known as the Pacific red cedar, shinglewood, or giant cedar. This last name seems to be the most apt for the larger individuals of this species, such as those found on the Teal Slough Trail at Willapa NWR. Western redcedar can grow up to heights of 200-plus feet with trunks 20 feet or more in diameter. It’s not difficult to believe that these trees are cousins to other members of the cedar family, such as giant sequoias and coastal redwoods, the largest and tallest tree species on earth. Thanks to ample rainfall, Pacific County’s redcedar are thought to be in mostly good health. But the die-back project can help identify any potential issues.

We are seeing it in many places, and it is of deep concern to all of us: Western redcedars are dying in parts of Washington state.

Western redcedar is an iconic and important component of Northwest forests. It has many ecological, economic and cultural values. Often referred to as the “tree of life,” the western redcedar is unmatched in its number of indigenous and modern uses. In many ways, this species embodies the forestry and cultural legacies of in the Pacific Northwest. In this time of die-back, it is critical we investigate the locations and the reasons behind the increased levels of mortality being observed.

The Forest Health Watch program is a new initiative led by WSU to help keep forests healthy. The program aims to host research projects that Northwest residents can contribute to as “community scientists.” You can learn more about the program at foresthealth.org.

This pilot project of the Forest Health Watch program is focused on the die-back of Western redcedar. Unfortunately, many reports of dead and dying western redcedar trees occur throughout its range, on both the east and west sides of the Cascades. In the face of this disturbing trend, more research is needed to map the distribution, identify vulnerable areas, and determine the factors driving the die-back. Community science can help.

Community science is research conducted by the general public to assist scientists with large questions by gathering important information in a timely and systematic fashion. Everyone is welcome to participate and help advance this important knowledge. Interested individuals can register as community scientists in the Forest Health Watch program, but it is not required for participation.

Help research go faster — Northwest residents are encouraged to contribute by sharing observations of healthy and unhealthy western redcedar trees. Observations can be shared online through the Western Redcedar Die-back Map project on iNaturalist.org or by joining the project through the iNaturalist smartphone app. More information for contributing to the iNaturalist project are provided at foresthealth.org/map.

Although the first project of the Forest Health Watch program is focused on western redcedar, Northwest residents are invited to share concerns for other forest health issues or recommend future projects. The program is designed to host multiple research projects with plans to expand when more research priorities are identified and additional financial support is secured.

Visit the Forest Health Watch program website to learn more, sign up for the newsletter, share feedback or ask questions. Inquiries about the program or the western redcedar research can also be directed to Dr. Joey Hulbert at hulbe@wsu.edu.

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