(Aug 21, 1974) Perring across the world’s largest collection of Yellow Cedar seedlings, Mission Tree Farm foreman Howard (Smokie) Murdoch (right) points out an exception example to manager Rocky Rockwell (left)
Yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) was an extremely valuable species in North America, limited to growing in higher coastal elevations from BC to Alaska, and in some coastal zones north of Knight Inlet. It was valued for its straight grain, yellow colour, and resistance to decay. First Nations communities valued yellow cedar for use as paddles, masks, dishes, and bark for clothing and blankets. It was also used extensively for boat building. Today, its value fluctuates regularly and unpredictably.
The leaves of yellow cedar are similar to those of western red cedar, but an easy way to distinguish them apart is to stroke the branchlets away from the tip – yellow cedar is very prickly, and red cedar is not. Crushed leaves of yellow cedar also have an unpleasant mildew smell.
In 1969, Mission tree farm manager Rocky Rockwell and foreman Howard (Smokie) Murdoch were looking for a tree that would grow well above 750 meters elevation, to make more economical use of the land considering its high value. Mission set about propagating yellow cedar in its own nursery, located in Steelhead. Since little research had been done on this species, Mission’s nursery trials, both in greenhouses and outdoors caught the eye of the Canadian Forest Service researchers, eager to discover new information about the little studied species.
Through several trials, they discovered at which age cones produce the most viable seeds, how to collect and germinate the seed, that growing the trees from cuttings is viable, and that yellow cedar is more able to weather heavy snows almost effortlessly, where Douglas-fir failed. By 1977, Mission was the leader in discovering more of the mysteries surrounding yellow cedar. In one of the largest yellow cedar plantations on the west coast, the growth rate of the yellow cedars took officials by surprise and attracted the attention of foresters around the world who came to get a first-hand look at Mission’s trials and research information. As no other yellow cedar reforestation was occurring in the Province, the work of Rockwell and Murdoch earned the distinction of being the first to manage yellow cedar successfully. From a small start, the nursery was producing up to 60,000 seedlings per year.
Unfortunately the closing of the nursery in the 1980s was the direct result of changes to the logging royalties paid to the Province by Mission, as recommended under the Royal Pearce Commission. As profits dwindled under the new stumpage and royalty structures and coupled with the recession, the nursery closure was necessary to sustain the remainder of the operations and the legislated requirements. Staff were downsized accordingly and the opportunity to study yellow cedar over the long term is now limited only to some long term research installations as a result of Rockwell and Murdoch’s trial plantations.
Today, yellow cedar in the Mission Community Forest (Tree Farm Licence 26) is still monitored by the Province in long term research installations.
Blocks of Yellow Cedar seedlings attract interest of the District of Mission Council on a tour of the Municipal Tree Farm. The nursery was supervised by Tree Farm manager Rocky Rockwell and foreman Howard Murdock. Inspecting growth of the young seedlings are (left to right) Alderman John Parks, Charles McPherson, Evelyn Humes, Howard Murdoch, Mayor William Harris (back to camera), Alderman Murry Catherwood and Alderman Perry Cleven.