Juneau Nature

Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Juneau Nature - Natural & cultural history of Juneau & Southeast Alaska

Life span

Overlooked elders

cored 16-inch cedar

Compared to many large, hollow-centered yellow cedars farther south on the Tongass, Juneau’s cedars are relative youngsters. The extracted increment core suggested this 16-incher on south Douglas Island probably didn’t colonize until the late 1600s. Just a teenager in yellow-cedar years!

The older I get, the more I think about the importance of species age in ecology. In the 3rd edition of The Nature of Southeast Alaska, I added a sidebar called Harvesting longevity, about often-overlooked antiquities. Here’s the first and last paragraph from that cross-taxon tour through mollusks, groundfish, trees, and deer:

“Whether studying clams, fish, deer or trees, northern researchers and naturalists frequently learn that life-span data from southern climes are inapplicable here. Underestimating longevity has serious consequences, especially for wild flora and fauna treated as commercial, sport, or subsistence species. . .
. . . ‘Harvest’—a term borrowed from agriculture—is of dubious merit when applied to seas or forests where cycles of birth-to-death are less visible, less understood, and less amenable to control. The consequence of overharvest is quickly obvious to a farmer, who sinks or swims financially on personally owned land. But when ‘harvesting’ wild ‘resources’ from public lands and waters, it’s harder to assign blame, or to instill restraint. For some managers and harvesters, exhaustion of one species is simply a cue to move on to another one, perhaps equally ill-suited to commercial or even casual extraction. This frontier mentality is a bull in the china shop of long-lived species.”