A growing die-off of native Western red cedar trees is becoming visible right across East Vancouver Island now.¬†¬†Experts say it’s a symptom of climate change and as Skye Ryan reports, it is changing the forests we’ve come to know across this region.

Bowen Park’s forest canopy protected residents from Nanaimo’s falling rain on Tuesday.

“This is the Island. We need our trees,” Nanaimo resident Gurdeesh Lalri said.

But a closer look at the towering Western red cedar trees in the park revealed they are the ones needing help.

They are dying and Lalri wonders if her kids will get to grow up with the iconic cedars that have been a fixture of this coast for centuries.

“Before us, and before our generations,” said Lalri.

“It’s sad and we’ve just let them go.”

Brown needles and lifeless branches stand out against the green, telling Patrick McIntosh’s trained arborist eye that more of Nanaimo’s cedars will soon have to come down.

“It’s sad,” said McIntosh, who is the Urban Forestry Coordinator for the City of Nanaimo.

“These big, life breathing trees that are so central to our identity on the west coast that have served such a critical role.”

Experts say the huge trees that have been dying off for more than a decade are a canary in the coal mine and signal the impact of recurring droughts and severe summer heat waves on this rainforest.

“We’ve been told we’re going to have to deal with some real, serious change that impacts everybody,” said McIntosh.

“And I mean this is what it’s starting to look like.”

McIntosh said the number of cedars dying is growing every year on east Vancouver Island.

“In the neighbourhood of five to 10 per cent start to be impacted every year,” said McIntosh.

So any new planting by the city will not include the Western red cedar, a cornerstone species of the region.

“The temperature’s too high for too long,” said McIntosh.

“And the trees just aren’t coping well.”

The situation is similar to what people are seeing with the once bright green Salal that is fast becoming a brown carpet across northern Vancouver Island. Experts say these native species are now quite literally feeling the heat from extreme weather.

Skye Ryan