The smell of cedar

In the Vancouver neighbourhood where I live when I am not on Salt Spring Island, signs appeared recently informing residents that dead or dying Western Red Cedar trees (Thuja plicata) were going to be removed. The cedars next to University Hill Secondary School are now gone, leaving a fragrant carpet of cedar chips. As I write this, I hear the sound of chainsaws and wood chippers as dead or dying trees, including Western Red Cedar, are being removed from a small copse next to the Wesbrook Community Centre.1

I love the smell of cedar, but was saddened to learn that the reason I may be coming across more of these fragrant wood chips, in the Lower Mainland as well as on Vancouver Island and the Southern Gulf Islands, is that many Western Red Cedars are dying as a result of the summer droughts in British Columbia.2 Other evergreens, such as Douglas Fir, are more resistant to long dry spells, but the Western Red Cedar requires wet soil.3

“Western Red Cedar” by Colin-47 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

With the forest fires in Australia burning out of control–as just one catastrophic example4–I can’t imagine that many of us need a reminder that the effects of climate change are not just a concern for the future but already all around us. Keeping track of smaller changes, such as the gradual disappearance of certain species from the ecosystems in which we live, is a less dramatic but equally important reminder.

  1. UBC Campus and Community Planning, “2019 Notices of Tree Removals,”
  2. Yvette Brend, “Western Red Cedars Die Off as Extended Dry Spells Continue, Say Experts,” CBC News, May 14, 2019,; Sandor Gyarmati, “Dozens of Trees Are Dying in Delta Parks,” Delta Optimist, August 15, 2019,;  Skye Ryan, “Extreme Weather Sparks Large Die Off of Cedar on Vancouver Island,” CHEK News, May 14, 2019,
  3. Sarah Wong, “Thuja Plicata,” Conifers of BC,
  4. Graham Readfearn, “Explainer: What Are the Underlying Causes of Australia’s Shocking Bushfire Season?” The Guardian, January 12, 2020,