Whidbey feels regional Christmas tree crunch

Tree farms decrease, prices increase

Lions Club of Oak Harbor counts on Christmas tree sales every year to raise the bulk of its budget needed for charitable work.

It also relies on regional tree farmers giving it a little break on price for the non-profit organization.

But that plan hit a knot this season.

“We had to get 25 percent of our trees shipped from Michigan,” said volunteer ‘tree wrangler’ John Upah.

Upah’s on the scene from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. daily at the Lions Club tree lot adjacent to Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce.

“We’ve always gotten all our trees from the farmers near Bellingham, but there’s a shortage this year,” he said. “And we normally have five species. This year we have four — noble firs, Doug firs, grand firs and Fraser.”

Upah said prices are up about $10 to $20 per tree over last year; prices range from $30 to $110.

Because of its fullness, the noble fir is the most popular Christmas tree while Douglas fir is generally the least expensive, Upah said.

Around the Northwest, pre-cut Christmas trees are reported to be in short supply, leading to higher prices and less selection.

Whidbey Island tree vendors say they’re also feeling the pinch.

“We had to get trees from Oregon because where we usually go in Washington, they were just getting tapped out,” said Isaiah Rawls with Knot in Thyme north of Oak Harbor.

Knot in Thyme operates a gift shop, makes and sells wreaths and offers free weekend draft horse wagon rides around its holly farm. It’s open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1-4 p.m. Sunday until Dec. 24.

Tree farmers in Oregon report they can’t keep up with demand as queries come in from around the country, and even from Asia.

Oregon ranks first in harvesting Christmas trees, Washington state ranks fifth.

In 2016, Oregon cut down approximately 5.2 million trees, according to the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, while Washington harvested 1.5 million. (North Carolina, Michigan and Pennsylvania are the other top states.)

Numerous factors fuel the tree shortage.

Some long-time tree farmers retired or quit the business during the 2007-2008 recession after a glut of trees led to decreased revenue.

That was followed by a regional growth spurt and more demand for holiday trees.

In short, fewer trees were planted while more people became Evergreen State transplants.

“A Christmas tree farm operation needs to have at least seven years in advance growing,” Rawls said.

“There just haven’t been enough trees in the past couple of years.”

“Maybe the farm has maxed out and they can’t cut down all the trees because they need some for the following year,” Rawls said.

Some of Whidbey’s handful of local Christmas tree farmers also report having fewer trees but for a different reason — too much sun.

“The past three summers, we’ve had so much dry, hot weather, a lot of our trees didn’t make it,” said Tony Shults who runs a South Whidbey tree farm started by his father in 1941.

“The first year it happened, I thought it was a blight, but other local farmers reported the same,” he said.

“We just don’t have as many trees as we used to.”

Shults Christmas Tree Farm grows Noble fir and Douglas fir that can be cut down or purchased pre-cut. Prices range from $40-$60. Located in Clinton, it’s open Friday-Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Isaiah Rawls, part of family-owned Knot in Thyme, re-arranges trees for sale at the store and holly farm north of Oak Harbor. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Isaiah Rawls, part of family-owned Knot in Thyme, re-arranges trees for sale at the store and holly farm north of Oak Harbor. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

John Upah with the Oak Harbor Lions Club checks checks the lot’s selection. Whidbey Island is feeling the pinch of the Northwest’s Christmas tree shortage, some vendors say. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

John Upah with the Oak Harbor Lions Club checks checks the lot’s selection. Whidbey Island is feeling the pinch of the Northwest’s Christmas tree shortage, some vendors say. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

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