On October 7, 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice in the Federal Register announcing the agency’s 12-month findings that a dozen species are not warranted for listing as endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In particular, the FWS decided not to list the yellow-cedar (Callitropsis nootkatensis), a slow-growing but commercially in-demand tree that occurs from southern Alaska to northern California. According to the FWS, yellow-cedars can live 500 to 700 years, with some individuals documented up to 1,600 years old.

A collection of environmental groups originally petitioned the FWS to list yellow-cedar as an endangered or threatened species on June 24, 2014. The groups cited two main issues specifically facing the populations of yellow-cedar in Alaska: (1) climate-change-induced root freezing that leads to tree death, and (2) old-growth logging practices that target healthy yellow-cedar in southeast Alaska and British Columbia. Somewhat counterintuitively, the petition stated that increased spring temperatures due to climate change leads to a greater risk of the trees’ roots freezing, as a lack of snow cover exposes the fragile root systems to deadly freezing temperatures. Additionally, the groups claimed the long-lived species is further threatened by its status as a main economic driver of major timber sales in the Tongass National Forest.

Initially, the FWS concluded that the yellow-cedar might warrant listing, publishing a 90-day finding to that effect on April 10, 2015. The FWS then requested more information from governmental agencies, tribes, the scientific community, industry, and other interested parties on the yellow-cedar’s biology, as well as the present or future threats the species might face, specifically including the potential effects of climate change on yellow-cedar and its habitat. After over four years of more in-depth study, the FWS has concluded in the recent 12-month finding that the yellow-cedar does not warrant listing under the ESA. While the FWS did find that yellow-cedar is experiencing a decline “primarily caused by a changing climate in the core of its range,” it also concluded that the area affected by climate change represents less than 6 percent of the species’ range, and, therefore, the species is expected to persist.

In addition to its 12-month finding on the yellow-cedar, the FWS also made negative 12-month findings on petitions to list the following 11 species:

  • Two salamander species: the Berry Cave salamander (Gyrinophilus gulolineatus) and the Peaks of Otter salamander (Plethodon hubrichti);
  • Two beetle species: the cobblestone tiger beetle (Cicindela marginipennis) and the Scott riffle beetle (Optioservus phaeus);
  • Two darter species: the longhead darter (Percina macrocephala) and the redlips darter (Etheostoma maydeni);
  • Three plant species: the Florida clamshell orchid (Prosthechea cochleata var. triandra), the Ocala vetch (Vicia ocalensis), and the yellow anise tree (Illicium parviflorum); and
  • Two reptile species: the Panamint alligator lizard (Elgaria panamintina) and the southern hognose snake (Heterodon simus).