Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Christmas tree inspections allow Washington trees to travel the world

Karla Salp

woman inspecting Christmas trees
WSDA inspector Sue Welch checks baled trees
It was a chilly, foggy morning a week before Halloween when WSDA plant protection inspectors Sue Welch and Haley Palec pulled up to a remote Christmas tree farm near Cinebar, just west of Mount Rainier National Park. While most people were still carving pumpkins and designing costumes, at Bear Canyon Tree Farm, the smell of fir was in the air. The farm’s freshly-cut Christmas trees were waiting for WSDA inspections so they could be shipped around the world. 

Bear Canyon Tree Farm’s trees were destined for markets in Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. In past years, they’ve even sent Christmas trees to Dubai.

To export Christmas trees to these and other countries, an inspection is usually required to make sure the trees don’t harbor any pests that might cause problems in the destination country. WSDA
gloved hand holding slug
Welch finds a slug under a tree, but it isn't a concern
in the countries where these trees are headed
inspectors will visually examine both baled trees (trees that have been cut and wound with string to tightly secure the branches to the trunk) and cut, loose trees.

While baled trees get a close inspection, it’s the loose trees that get the action with a forceful, lengthy machine shaking that will knock loose needles and pests from the trees.

Two men holding Christmas tree in mechanical shaker
Farmworkers shake tree while Welch observes.
To the untrained eye, the shaking just appears to create a pile of dead tree needles. But inspectors know what to look for. They bend down to carefully examine the pile, looking for needles showing signs of disease or insects that have fallen out.

On this inspection, several insects had lost their grip on the tree, but none were pests of concern and inspectors did not find evidence of any diseases. This was great news for the tree farm waiting to export their trees.

As for the baled trees, they also get a good shake prior to being bound and are then visually inspected.

Haley Palec examines fallen needles for potential pests
Washington ranks fourth nationally in the production of Christmas trees, with all of those trees grown on about 400 tree farms statewide.
Noble and Douglas fir trees are the most popular Christmas trees sold in Washington, accounting for 90 percent of all sales.

But many of our state’s Christmas trees end up in Hawaii, California, Canada, Mexico, Asia, and U.S. military bases worldwide.