Dead and Dying Trees on Your Property Information

What can be done with Dead and Dying Trees on Your Property?

A brochure produced by the District of Highlands Sustainable Land Use Select Committee – Spring 2020

Look around and you will see the fir and cedar trees declining rapidly

Over the past five years the rapidly increasing number of dead and dying Douglas fir and cedar trees has drawn the attention of many residents in the Highlands.  It was expected that our majestic cedar trees would be the first casualty of climate change, but the effects on Douglas fir trees have been greater than expected.

Why are Douglas Fir and Cedar trees dying?

We are experiencing a rapidly transitioning forest ecosystem with the changing weather patterns of the climate crisis.  Drought and heat stress are causing the rapid dying of coastal populations of Douglas Fir from Northern California up through British Columbia and Alaska.

You are seeing:

  • Excessive pollen and cone production.  This is called a “distress crop” and is what a tree might do when it is dying.  The tree is trying to reproduce more seeds rapidly
  • Rapid reddening and browning of needles
  • Rapid needle loss

What is causing it?

  • Heat and drought stress from the prior year has led to compromised tree health
  • Reduced moisture within the tree causes the inner core to shrink, creating space/habitat between the bark and the tree for insects
  • Insects that take advantage of the new habitat promote additional stress
  • Several natural fungal species move in and increase the decay

This has several implications

  • Fire Safety (see also the Home Owners FireSmart Manual available on the District Website)
  • Ecology Biodiversity decline, affecting understory plants and animals, not just tree species
  • Decreased shading = Increased heating
  • Decreased soil stability
  • Loss of organic matter due to increased soil temperature and less supply of litter from healthy trees
  • Higher risk of wind damage

Responsible Carbon Management

  • Upright dead or dying trees provide homes and food for beetles, borers, weevils and fungi species
  • Dangerous trees should be removed, though large dead tree trunks are generally safe to keep upright as they house birds that will help reduce the insect populations in live trees
  • Before falling a tree, check for nesting birds in the tree or in nearby ground cover during nesting seasons
  • Placing the woody debris and tree chunks on the forest floor promotes more carbon sequestration in the soil (50%).  Adding organic matter to the soil also improves moisture retention, and maintains the environment for fungi that help living trees get both water and nutrients
  • Burning unnecessarily adds to increased CO2 emissions (which we now know is a major reason why the trees are dying)
  • Chipping and mulching are highly valuable forms of keeping the carbon close to the soil, and soil moisture elevated = very good

How do you get started with revegetating your landscape?

Many communities that have been ravaged by wildfire have learned lessons we can learn from.

  • Replant with fire resistant deciduous trees.  It is expected that the Regional Vegetation Management Strategy may provide advice on recommended species to replant.
  • Build shading into your landscape.  Trees and ground cover keep soils cooler; cooler soils are moister and less stressful on plants
  • Trees left to decompose on the ground will promote the health of the remaining trees
  • If you fall a tree, and leave it to decay, plant your new tree on the north shady side of the trunk
  • Anticipate the expected climate 20 to 50 years down the road and match tree species to those types of climates

Am I allowed to remove dead or dying trees?

A permit may be required under the Highlands Tree Management Bylaw or Development Permit Area and restrictions may apply under land title covenants.  More information, advice and permits are obtainable at the District office.

Highland’s Role

Your Highland’s Council has raised this concern in the region.  There will likely be created a Regional Vegetation Management Strategy as one of the ways to adapt to climate change and mitigate risks.

References and Resources: