Shannon Kelleher

A growing body of research suggests relocating some tree populations may help them adapt to future climates

Douglas-fir trees of the Pacific Northwest are no shrinking violets. While quaint, domesticated variations make decorative Christmas trees that fit in the living room, wild Douglas-firs induce awe. Towering in the Cascades and coastal mountains at heights sometimes exceeding 300 feet, these are thick-barked giants capable of withstanding forest fires and surviving for a millennium. The species occupies an enormous range, growing alongside agave in Oaxaca, Mexico, and spanning northward to the temperate rainforest of southeast Alaska. The Douglas-fir’s biggest historical problem was claiming a name for itself—botanists waffled for years, calling it a pine, a spruce, a hemlock, and a true fir. In 1867, they finally threw in the towel and gave the tree its own genus, Psuedotsuga, or “false hemlock.”

But in recent years, the Pacific Northwest has begun heating up and drying out. It isn’t a big problem for Douglas-firs yet, with temperatures still hovering within their suitable climatic range. However, projections for coming decades suggest that native stands will soon be maladapted to local climates.

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