Our Cause: The Atlantic White Cedar Initiative

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Our Cause, the Atlantic White Cedar Initiative

The late 1800s and early 1900s saw tremendous exploitation of forest resources in the southeastern United States and other regions. Forests were regarded as inexhaustible; wasting timber was a virtue, not a crime; and the concept of sustained yield had never been considered (U. S. Forest Service 2004). Two forest types that fell in the path of that philosophy were longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) (Early 2004) and baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) (Krinbill1956). AWC was far less ubiquitous than either of those species, but it was important to the local culture and economy where it occurred. Because Atlantic white cedar was so valuable, it was reduced in North Carolina to less than 10% of the original acreage by the 1980s (Frost 1989), possibly 5% by the late 1990s (Davis et al. 1997).

Since the late 1980s, there has been strong interest in the ecology and restoration of AWC. Today, there is a large body of scientific knowledge related to the ecology of Atlantice white cedar (AWC) and the ecosystems in which it is found (See the Archived Proceedings on this website). Work in the area of forest management goes back to the 1920s; but more is needed. It is no longer enough simply to plant more trees, to talk about the great attributes of AWC, or to continue describing AWC ecosystems in more detail. It is important to look at the big picture, and figure out how to move the resource forward in the future.

As with forests in general, sustainable forest management likely is the best hope for conserving and restoring the AWC resource and its associated values (Pinchot Institute for Conservation 2012). This does not preclude, however, preserving designated AWC stands to reach their maximum potential size and age, without being harvested. In addition, recent experience with hurricanes and fires in eastern North Carolina and Virginia indicate that “active management is essential for achieving sufficient seedling densities and survival for regenerating a mature cedar stand” (Laing et al. 2011).

The long decline in longleaf pine acreage recently ended largely as a result of efforts by the Longleaf Alliance . The success of the Longleaf Alliance has come, in part, because, “it provided a reasonable economic argument to complement the strong ecological argument” (Johnson 2012) for restoring the species. Similarly, to secure the future of the AWC resource, more people have to recognize that loggers and landowners must be able to make a profit that allows for reinvestment into the forest for restoration and future timber supplies (Williams 2008). Where those conditions exist, restoration can be paid for many times over by the forest itself rather than at taxpayer expense through cost share programs.

Although there is a small but steady flow of good scientific information concerning AWC (see Proceedings archived in this website), it might be beneficial to do some refocusing. Efforts should be made to increase the utilization of AWC, especially given the widespread use of its formidable competitor, western redcedar (Thuja plicata) (WRC). New products and uses for AWC should be sought. New and more reliable markets must be established; otherwise, there is too much uncertainty for people and businesses in the supply chain (Williams 2008).

Education is needed to show how restoration, conservation, and forest management can be mutually compatible. People must understand that increasing utilization and forest management cannot be separated if the goal is to support industry in a sustainable manner while at the same time preserving long-term quality and productivity of the ecosystem. Public agencies and the public at large must see that forest management, including logging, can be carried out responsibly without permanently degrading the ecosystem. Logging practices are available that minimize the negative impact of harvesting (Williams 2008).

Other technology is available to release AWC regeneration from competition by other species. Advocates of AWC must get better at conveying the available technology and message to people and agencies making policy decisions affecting the resource. Restoration of AWC can be enhanced by a policy of wise use, similar to the philosophy of Gifford Pinchot (U.S. Forest Service 2004). Where appropriate, it can also involve an element of preservation. In addition, public perception and policy should be undergirded by science as well as empirical experience in the field.

Based on its ecology, management policies that exclude disturbance are likely to eventually lead to a decline in the importance of AWC (Motzkin et al. 1992). Thus, “…an understanding of processes that influence community composition and structure over long periods of time may indicate conservation objectives and management guidelines different from those directed at the preservation of communities that, at a given point in time, appear to be unique on the landscape (Motzkin et al. 1992).”

The word “restoration” can have numerous meanings, representing anything from merely putting AWC back on the land, without site preparation, perhaps with 200 to 300 trees per acre (low intensity), to heavy site preparation and machine planting of 1250 trees per acre (high intensity). The measure(s) of success for restoration depends on the objectives of ownership. For example, public agencies tend to have either multiple-use missions, or in some cases, a “preservationist” mindset. On the other hand, landowners, businesses, and potential investors might be specifically interested in timber production or some other product that can produce revenue.

Regardless of scale, if the goal is to restore and maintain Atlantic white cedar in the landscape, effort should be made to restore and control hydrology as part of the overall management plan (Lowie and Ward 2012). Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is a good example of hydrologic restoration on landscape scale (Ward 2010). In addition to greatly minimizing the risk of catastrophic wildfires, maintaining a higher water table is also is important in the control of hardwood vegetation, especially red maple (Acer rubrum), which tends to take over AWC sites when the soil becomes drier (references).

Everyone can agree that AWC is a beautiful and valuable tree with a rich history. If the objective is to restore AWC and expand its footprint as well as its utilization, advocates of the species need to bring all resources to bear on that objective. Knowledge is just one part. These resources involve a combination of science-based knowledge, sound economics, forest management, cultivation of potential partners, and education. Science, technology, and empirical wisdom must be integrated with an awareness of social, political, cultural, and economic factors to effectively achieve all management objectives for the long-term benefit of the resource and people who use it (Williams 2012).

For years, there has been talk of forming an Atlantic White Cedar Alliance, but critical mass (people and financial backing) to support it is lacking at this time. Nevertheless, plans are moving ahead to use this website (http://atlanticwhitecedar.org/) to focus on initiatives that would be addressed by an Alliance:

1. To serve as a hub for dissemination of information and for educational outreach,

2. To promote the commercial utilization of AWC, identify new products and markets, and identify opportunities where forest management and silviculture can solve environmental problems while also generating a profit.

3. To encourage research related to basic ecology of AWC.

4. To educate the public about the unique characteristics of AWC ecosystems, including threatened or endangered species.

5. To research and promote better forest management practices (BMPs) for AWC.

6. To encourage restoration of AWC to its historic range.

7. To archive significant publications related to AWC.

8. To archive images and video related to AWC and the initiatives listed above.

Revised 28 October 2013
Eric Hinesley


Atlantic White Cedar Initiative
Campus Box 8008, Raleigh, NC 27695-8008
919-515-9563, 919-515-7793

Last Update: October 28, 2013 4:19 PM