Tree Tips: Fall Flagging in Western Red Cedars

As far as tree species go, the western red cedar is kind of a big deal here on the coast of British Columbia. Not only is the western red cedar (more formally known as Thuja plicata) touted as the provincial tree of British Columbia, but historically, the wood, roots and bark of the western red cedar were integral to First Nations culture.

Fall flagging is another notable characteristic of the western red cedar. If you’re not familiar with the process, fall flagging can look alarming—isolated branchlets of old, dying or dead foliage scatter over the whole tree and turn yellow, red or bronze in colour.

The good news is: fall flagging is a normal condition of the western red cedar. Because they prefer moist, well-drained soil, western red cedars are prone to flagging after long periods of hot, dry weather. Flagging is a defense mechanism to reduce water loss by ridding the tree of older, less productive foliage.

Thanks to Kevin Zobrist of Washington State University a lot of the mystery behind fall flagging is explained in this handy fact sheet: Seasonal Foliage Loss in Pacific Northwest Conifer Trees.

Here’s an excerpt below or click the link above to read the complete handout.

In the fall, after a long, dry summer, an evergreen conifer may not have enough resources to sustain all of its green foliage; thus, it will shed its oldest foliage (the foliage found on the innermost part of a branch). In doing so, the tree is prioritizing its resources. The oldest foliage is the least productive because it has become dirty over time and, being on the interior of the branch, receives the least amount of sunlight. The tree will sacrifice this older foliage in favor of the newer, more productive foliage.

Although the tree’s appearance may be somewhat alarming, this seasonal foliage loss is a normal part of conifer growth. The foliage loss is particularly noticeable in western red cedar, where it is referred to as “flagging”.

Since dieback is a seasonal phenomenon, it should resolve itself with the changing of the seasons. The foliage that has turned orange or brown will be blown out of the trees with the first big windstorms in November or December, and suddenly make the tree look much greener and healthier.

Other seasonal discolorations may appear as winter progresses. Again, red cedar is particularly prone to these discolorations—foliage may turn a bronze color due to cold, dry weather, but then green-up again in the spring.”


Nothing to worry about—business as usual for the western red cedar.

From Planning to Planting: Reforestation Basics for Forest Owners

Douglas-fir seedlingsEach year, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 200 million trees are planted across British Columbia.

Reforestation is an ongoing activity that requires knowledge of the forest site and the species involved, as well as an understanding of the risks, constraints and establishment techniques available. To be successful, reforestation also requires advance planning, follow-up monitoring and tending.

Because reforestation is such an important part of managing your woodland, we’ve collaborated with our favourite resource again (Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia) to highlight some important points to consider when putting together a reforestation plan for your operation.

There are a number of ways to approach reforestation:

  1. Let nature handle it (natural regeneration)
  2. Assist nature (seed tree selection, site preparation)
  3. Shortcut nature (artificial regeneration)
  4. A combination of the above methods

The method you choose will depend on:

  • your management goals
  • the presence of a seed source
  • the site capability and characteristics
  • your ability to finance reforestation
  • the time period in which you want to establish a new crop

Because B.C.’s Private Managed Forest Land Act requires forest owners to reforest with commercial species, we focus on artificial regeneration here. Check out Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia for more detailed information on the different approaches to reforestation.

Regardless of your approach, you need to think about your reforestation plan long before you harvest. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Start with a Site Assessment

Site assessment looks at the physical and productive characteristics of the site, including:

  • soil characteristics
  • drainage and moisture regime
  • nutrient status and capability

The site assessment also looks at what species are currently growing on the site, as well as any potential constraints to reforestation, including:

  • brush hazard
  • excessively moist or dry areas
  • thin soils, rocky or talus areas
  • forest health issues
  • wildlife concerns

If you don’t feel comfortable handling the project yourself, this is a good point to have a conversation with a forester, or a forest tech, who can help you formulate your reforestation strategy. Knowledgeable and competent consultants are available to give advice, lend guidance or manage the project for you.

Think about Reforestation Species Selection

Species selection for reforestation depends on a number of factors:

  • your personal goals
  • the moisture and nutrient capability of your site
  • the silvics (shade tolerance, growth rates, elevation range, site preferences) of the species
  • what is currently growing on site?

A quick survey of any stumps on-site, as well as the mature forest in neighbouring stands, will give you an idea of nature’s choice of species for the area.

Nature does a pretty good job of figuring out what grows best where. Take time to study the site before you harvest. Look at the trees that thrive there and local variability—wet areas, dry areas, steep areas, flat areas. By looking at the trees that thrive in the different areas, nature can help guide you to know what seedlings to plant where.

Have a Site Preparation Plan

In general, site preparation is carried out in the late summer or fall of the year before planting. The decisions you’ll make about the appropriate site preparation will depend on the site conditions, silvicultural system and management objectives for the area.

Remember: weigh the costs of site preparation against the potential delay in regeneration if no preparation is done.

During harvesting be sure to maintain the fertility of the site. Ensure machinery doesn’t interfere with the ground, compact your soil, impede natural drainage patterns, increase the risk of landslides or otherwise complicate reforestation efforts. Have a plan for how you’ll handle harvesting debris—branches and tops can make reforestation challenging.

Choosing Your Seedling Stock

The type and size of planting stock you choose will depend on the amount of brush competition, soil characteristics, and potential for browse by domestic livestock or wildlife on the site. The choice of stock should be based on the best performance at the least cost.

In general, where competition from other plants is a problem, larger stock outperforms smaller stock. Where site conditions are severe, choosing the “right” plug stock can improve the seedlings’ odds of having the nutrients and protection they need to survive.

Talk to your tree nursery experts. They specialize in growing seedlings and can offer advice on:

  • when to plant
  • the size, age and height of seedlings to plant
  • what species work well on dry sites, brushy sites etc.
  • finding contractors who can do the planting for you

We’re fortunate to know a number of excellent companies who offer quality reforestation stock, expert knowledge and great service. In alphabetical order, we’re happy to recommend:

Planning Ahead for Your Seedlings

If you’re buying seedlings, you need plenty of lead-time to make arrangements. Seedlings take a year or more to produce, so it’s necessary to register a sowing request with the nursery in advance, usually before harvesting begins, and at minimum, about a year and a half prior to planting.

Surplus seedlings may be available once all orders are filled in the spring, but in general, it’s not worth the risk. Sometimes seedlings are in demand, sometimes they’re in surplus—don’t make any assumptions.

Planting Your Seedlings

Planting is carried out with the best success between fall and spring, when temperatures are moderate and soil moisture is up. The number of seedlings planted depends on your management objectives. Less trees per hectare provides more room and nutrients for each tree but will result in larger branch size.

Tree Planting Guidelines:

  • choose planting spots carefully, depending on species’ needs
  • clear immediate area of debris and competing vegetation
  • make planting hole deep enough to accommodate roots without bending
  • plant tree upright, and to the root collar
  • fill soil in and around roots to remove air pockets
  • tamp down soil firmly around planted seedling.

Quality means everything in planting. The 
quality of your reforestation plan from the 
choice of species and stock, to the selection of
 individual planting sites will influence the cost-effectiveness and final success of your reforestation program. The condition of the seedling when it goes into the ground, and how well it is planted are the final keys to survival.

Monitor Your New Crop

Of course, reforestation means more than putting trees back in the ground. It means reestablishing a forest. After artificial regeneration, a number of check-ups must be carried out on a stand to make sure it’s properly established, and to monitor how it is progressing.

Many factors can affect the success of the regenerated site, and it is important to identify any problems as early as possible in order to protect your investment and save you time and money down the road.

Last, but not least: Browse Protection

Buck on Reid Island, B.C.In many parts of the province, browsing by ungulates (deer, elk and moose), or even beaver, hares, mice or voles, can destroy overnight the planning, expense and labour invested in reforestation. If there’s a significant risk of animal damage to your plantation, you need to consider protective measures during the reforestation process.

Essentially, you have three options:

  1. Fencing
  2. Individual seedling protectors/ physical barriers
  3. Treating the seedling with discouraging scents

Though expensive, physical barriers are often considered the most worthwhile. These can take the form of solid plastic cones (Sinocast), plastic mesh (Vexar), wire mesh (stucco wire) cages, net tubes or plastic tubes.

Your choice will be determined by:

  • cost and availability
  • labour to apply, monitor and remove
  • access to site
  • type of browsing animal
  • size of seedling during the susceptible stage
  • wind or snow accumulation

Thanks again to Managing Your Woodlands: A Non-forester’s Guide to Small-scale Forestry in British Columbia for the information.

Woodlots—The Island Way: A showcase of community-friendly forestry

The Federation of BC Woodlot Associations (FBCWA) held their annual conference and AGM in Campbell River and Quadra Island, September 19-22, 2013.

PFLA shares a long and productive history with the FBCWA. We also share a lot of the same goals and beliefs about forest stewardship and land management. Many PFLA members are also FBCWA members, and from time to time the two organizations work together on common issues.

The FBCWA conference and field tour was an interesting, useful and educational opportunity for PFLA to engage and connect with licensees, landowners, ministry staff and other important stakeholders involved with PFLA over the years. As always, we were impressed and inspired to find a dynamic group of industrious people, deeply passionate about the work they do.

 Conference Highlights

2013 Woodlot Stewardship Recognition video — Jerry Benner presented a 16-minute video describing the evolution of the woodlot program on Quadra Island and highlighting some of the challenges and successes licensees have faced and accomplished since the program’s inception in the late 1980s.  (Link to the video coming soon!)

Rick Monchak, RPF, TimberWest — Rick’s presentation, “Woodlot Style” Forestry on a TFL, provided a detailed history and description of the company’s approach to managing land on Quadra Island over the past 30 years.

Judi Cunningham, UBC Sauder School of Business — Judi Cunningham’s presentation highlighted the importance of family-run businesses to the global economy and included all kinds of practical information and resources for business owners and family members to think about.

Bill Markvoort and Terry Basso, Probyn Group — Bill and Terry offered an enlightening presentation about coastal log markets. They used graphs, charts and years of local knowledge to make sense of current log market opportunities and also provided insights and advice to help land managers best plan for future cycles.

Friday Night Banquet

Not to be out done by the charm of the west coast, the excellent spread at the April Point Lodge or the lively entertainment, Minister Thomson gave a heartfelt speech to the group acknowledging the dedication, commitment and contributions that woodlot licensees make to the overall fabric of forest stewardship in the province.

Field Tour Highlights

Saturday’s field tour on Quadra Island was an excellent opportunity to hear firsthand how other forest managers tackle issues. Because many PFLA members face challenges operating close to the urban interface in coastal communities, it was particularly interesting to visit the Village Bay Road stop on the north end of the island.

Woodlot licensees, tourism operators and ministry staff discussed managing for visual quality objectives (VQOs) and offered examples of different strategies used:

  • leave a standing buffer vs. clear to the road in staggered sections (red alder site)
  • commercial thin vs. patch cut (Douglas-fir site)

It was interesting to learn what the expectations of tourism operators are, and how woodlot lincensees are managing those expectations.

Rick Monchak RPF TimberWest

A second highlight was Rick Monchak’s facts and figures comparing the visual and economic history of a 1975 cable commercial thinning. Using recent timber cruise data, Rick compared the block with an adjacent untreated control site and presented the long-term outcomes in those particular circumstances.

The presentation was a handy reminder that different treatments impact the long-term value of a stand. A lot of the things you do — the treatments you carry out, the investments you make — you do because they make good sense at the time, but then decades later you can realize it doesn’t make sense anymore.

Mark Nighswander

We were also lucky to tour Mark Nighswander’s private property where he described, with enthusiasm, the diversity of trees he’s planted in an endeavour to establish non-native species known for their high values, including a variety of eastern Canadian hardwoods.

You can visit our Facebook page to see a few more Quadra Island field tour photos.

Thanks again to FBCWA organizers, volunteers, staff and community members in Campbell River and on Quadra Island for hosting the event and sharing such a positive and inspiring perspective on community friendly forestry.

The FBCWA promotes the economic and social interests of woodlot lincensees, private forest landowners and others involved in small-scale forest management in British Columbia. The FBCWA’s mission is for all its members to practice exemplary forest and natural resources management in a socially, economically and environmentally responsible manner.

FBCWA Mission Statement