Nat Geo: What Mass Die-off of an Iconic Tree Says About Changing Climate

A new book reports from the frontlines of a world in transition, and explores our ability to cope.


The species is Callitropsis nootkatensis. Some people call it the Alaska cedar. Others call it the yellow cypress, or the Nootka cypress, named after Nootka Sound along Vancouver Island, where it was first botanically documented. Alaskans use the name yellow-cedar. What mattered to me was that these trees are long-lived, and that, though they are coveted for their golden wood, and culturally revered for their majestic and mysterious ways, they are dying in our warming world.

To my right, I could see the steep hillsides covered in white skeletons of dead trees—standing on end like telephone poles, leafless ghosts of the towering cypress. Boulder-sized rocks on the beaches looked like little specks in relation to the large tracks of terrain with dying trees, the canopies of foliage in faded sepia tone.

From the bird’s-eye view, the giant trunks looked like thousands of toothpicks stuck in the earth. If trees were people, anyone would have called it a tragedy—an epidemic running rampant throughout the community in the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest on Earth. I felt the tiny hairs on my forearms rise.

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