In Washington, Top Christmas Tree Areas Hit Hard by Winter Storms
May. 12, 1991
SEATTLE (AP) _ Christmas-tree farmers throughout western Washington are reeling from winter floods and frosts that have left more than 400,000 trees damaged or dying.
The Douglas fir - the most popular holiday evergreen - should be full, lush and green. But at more than 200 farms, trees have turned bare, thin and brown.
In many instances, frozen soil literally choked the roots from getting the oxygen needed to replenish needles, said Don Hanley, a Washington State University Cooperative Extension forester in Seattle. The effect, he said, is akin to ''freeze-drying something in your freezer.''
Farmers in Mason County, which grows more Christmas trees than any other county in the nation, were particularly hard hit. Twenty percent of the 2 million trees there have been damaged so badly farmers will keep them off the market.
''There are 40-acre parcels here that looked like someone burned them with a torch,'' said James Freed, a WSU forestry agent in Shelton.
While freezing burns trees, flooding drowns foliage with too much water. On several farms, trees were caked by debris and silt.
Farmers are washing them clean, but those tactics weaken the trees further. They may look fine on the outside, Freed said, but by the time the trees get to homes in Texas and California ''they drop all their needles.''
Given the risks, some farmers may decide to cut their losses and replant, he said.
The damage was widespread.
Some trees planted on flood plains in Snohomish and Skagit counties were swallowed by more than six feet of water.
In Thurston County, three or four tree farms were flooded several times, and one 30-acre farm was inundated as recently as last month. And in Lewis County, foresters say frost damage was noticeable on 150 to 200 tree farms.
Other owners reported damage in Carnation, Fall City and North Bend.
Jim and Bobbie Vipperman cut down more than 800 trees at their 6-acre U-cut farm in Duvall.
''They were just too bad,'' Bobbie Vipperman said. ''During Christmas, they were nice and green. Then they started turning brown.''
Farmers say any loss is hard because it takes five or six years to raise a good Douglas fir for market. Foresters warn that browned trees that replace needles will still lack fullness.
Even though as much as 20 percent of local tree stocks might be out of commission this year, Freed said consumers probably won't notice anything different about Christmas trees, except at some local U-cut farms.
Farmers will offer undamaged Douglas firs and other trees, such as noble and grand firs, that weathered the winter without problems.