Is this climate change-battered conifer migrating northward?

This web exclusive appeared on hcn.org Oct. 19, 2015:

Healthy yellow cedar from the stand on Douglas Island, near Juneau, AK.
Healthy yellow cedar from the stand on Douglas Island, near Juneau, AK.

We are high in the fold of a steep, boggy valley when my friend Sarah spots our quarry tucked amidst blueberry and dark hemlocks. The first yellow cedar is spindly, no more than four inches in diameter, with striated reddish bark and drooping feathery fronds that seem to fit the sodden, misty September day. We poke around and find another, then another; there are a couple hundred of the trees in this stand leaning over a cascading stream and spaced out along a hairpin bend in the trail that leads up to a Forest Service cabin above Juneau, Alaska.

Young as they are, they look a bit scraggly to my untrained eye, but they’re a small bright spot in an otherwise dark story: Yellow cedar, a culturally and commercially important tree prized for its strong, remarkably decay-resistant wood, has died in droves thanks to long-term climatic shifts, and will likely lose much more as human-induced warming advances. And yet here, the trees seem to be thriving. Scientists studying this and 14 other scattered, isolated stands around Juneau believe they may represent a leading edge of the tree’s migration northward into more favorable climes. The researchers hope the trees will yield clues on how best to conserve the species as temperatures climb. More…

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