Climate Change Is Coming for Christmas Trees Now

Triple-digit temperatures are scorching Christmas trees, and seedlings can't get enough water because of the drought.
July 19, 2021, 7:54pm
This is a dead Christmas tree seedling in a field of dead seedlings at Smolak Farms in North Andover, Mass., that died during this summer's drought, Aug. 18, 2016.
This is a dead Christmas tree seedling in a field of dead seedlings at Smolak Farms in North Andover, Mass., that died during this summer's drought, Aug. 18, 2016. (Photo by Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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Climate change is shaping up to be the real war on Christmas—despite what former President Trump and other Republicans have said. 

Christmas tree growers in Oregon are losing as much as 100 percent of their inventories from temperatures soaring into the triple digits. The draught that’s engulfed the West is parching their seedlings, and the record-breaking heat is scorching needles off of mature trees. Since most Christmas trees can take as long as seven years to grow to proper height, one devastating year like this can wipe out almost a decade of work. 

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“This year is by far the worst I’ve ever had,” Larry Reyerson, owner of U Cut Christmas Tree Farm in Medford, Oregon, told VICE News. “I need water just to keep my young ones surviving, and then the bigger ones probably can make it through the drought, but they couldn't make it through the hot days we’ve had. 

“I don’t know if we’re going to open up, or even have Christmas this year,” he added. “It’s bad.”

Reyerson, who’s owned his farm since 1979, said he started growing trees as a hobby while he was a school teacher. Since his retirement, it’s become his full-time job. The grower said this year, all 2,500 of his seedling trees are gone. 

“We’ve had about 25 straight days of 95-plus days of heat, and that’s just zapped my trees,” he said. “I have eight varieties now all with burnt needles.”

Reyerson and other Christmas tree growers typically have access to three different lakes for water: Hyatt, Howard, and Emigrant, according to him. Combined, they’re supposed hold, at peak capacity, more than 50,000 acre feet of water combined. But as of March, they’re all less than a quarter full, with Howard Prairie Lake sitting at just 8 percent water capacity—and dropping. 

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Matt Furrow, the co-owner of Furrow Farms in HIllsboro, Oregon, about 300 miles north of Reyerson’s farm, also said this is a particularly bleak year for his family’s farm. 

“It’s just really a bad time to be a Christmas tree farmer,” Furrow told KATU 2 news. “Probably the worst year we’ve had.”

Climate change also has the potential to end the business of Christmas tree growing in the region altogether: If the growers’ seedlings continue to be scorched by the ensuing heat, they won’t have anything left to start growing again next year.

“It just burnt everything,” Verlyn Aerni III, Co-owner of Aerni Family Christmas Tree, told NBC Palm Springs. “I mean from our Christmas trees, the new babies are pretty much all wiped out and the second-year babies, I mean I don’t know that they are going to make it.” 

It’s not unusual to see a triple-digit-temp day in Oregon once every few years, but the area has repeatedly experienced record-setting heat this year. Portland had three record-breaking days in a row late last month, topping out at 116 degrees on June 28. The heat wave has become so intense in the West, Northwest, and Pacific Northwest that hundreds of humans have died—in metropolitan areas, not the desert—this year from exposure. 

“A year ago we were just emerging from [COVID-19] restrictions and, honestly, it never crossed my mind then that we would see a wave of deaths from heat as we have these last few weeks,” Multnomah County’s Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines, said during a July 13 press conference addressing the dire heatwave situation in the Northwest

The extreme heat is also sparking wildfires in the area that could burn both the Christmas trees and surrounding towns. 

The Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon is the country's largest wildfire as of Monday afternoon. It’s already ripped through nearly 304,000 acres and is only 25 percent contained—despite the 2,181 firefighters on the scene continually battling the flames. Conditions are so bone-dry and temperatures so hot in the area that “firenados,” or blazing vortexes of wind and flames, have spawned, too.