Dead and dying cedars cause of concern for Fire Chief

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, July 19 2016

Gabriola’s Fire Chief Rick Jackson says he is worried about what could happen if cedar trees continue to die off around Gabriola.

Jackson noted there seems to be an unusual number of cedar trees either dead or dying on Gabriola this year, but said he was unsure of the cause.

Whatever the reason though, he sees those dead trees as just one extra fire hazard on the island.

Not only are the standing dead trees an issue, but even if residents bring the trees down, there is nowhere to dispose of the wood.

As Jackson said, “We are going to have debris disposal issues. There is nowhere to dispose of them.”

Gabriolan Rob Brockley, a retired professional forester, said the die-off is likely due to the drought conditions seen on Gabriola over the past couple of years.

Brockley said both western red cedar and western hemlock prefer slightly moister habitats, meaning much of Gabriola has always been a bit marginal for their growth. 

“They are both quite shallow-rooted species (especially hemlock), so they are more affected by dry surface soils than species such as Douglas-fir and arbutus. 

“The cumulative effects of two years of severe drought have stressed both species. Although drought is the primary cause of death, secondary agents (wood-boring insects) can also take advantage of stressed trees and finish them off.”

Brockley concurred with Jackson saying the recently killed western red cedar trees, with brown foliage still attached, undoubtedly increase the risk of wildfire. 

“Of most concern are the smaller dead cedar trees in the understory that provide a ladder fuel to crowns of living trees. Removing these smaller trees would largely abate the risk. The fire hazard of standing dead trees will decline once the dead foliage falls to the ground after one or two years. Dead western hemlock trees are not much of a fire hazard since the needles drop from the trees at the time of death.”

Amidst the bad news though, Brockley said “the good news is that drier weather the past couple of years has improved the health of the arbutus. “The fungus affecting the foliage of arbutus thrives in moist conditions, so the drier weather has reduced its activity.”