No tree shortage, just a reduction in options due to heat wave, supply chain

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Local Christmas tree sellers had to get creative to buy their firs this year, but said they were all able to get trees that now are going fast.

Hal Bornstedt, chairman for the Kelso-Longview Elks Christmas tree lot fundraiser said he started planning back in June, contacting their wholesale tree farms early and often after the heat wave. The trees the group sells benefits the Seattle Children’s Hospital, Pope’s Place in Centralia (an individualized care hospital for children) and the Washington State Elks Therapy Program for Children, or Tall Elks program, 

“A couple of them did have damage and said we have some problems, but think we can still fill most of our orders,” Bornstedt said. “And they did for us.”

While one of the several lots came up a bit short for the Elks’ overall order of 700 trees, Bornstedt said they were able to fill the difference from other lots.

In the Ocean Beach Highway Safeway parking lot, Valley View Church of God is selling trees to raise money for children locally and globally. Pastor Cole Pruitt said earlier in the week that out of 200 trees, just under 30 were left Wednesday. While there were no problems getting those trees, he said the church could only get three sizes and a limited number of tree species compared to what they usually offer.

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“They’ve still gone faster this year than they did last year,” he said.

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The American Christmas Tree Association on Thursday said despite fears of a Christmas tree shortage, anyone who wanted a tree would be able to get one — just perhaps not the species or size they would prefer.

“While supply chain and shortage issues have posed a serious challenge to the U.S. Christmas tree industry in 2021, the ACTA NielsenIQ results show that, as predicted, the majority of U.S. households that hoped to buy a tree were able to find one to fit their needs this season,” the ACTA said in a press release about its yearly survey.

The survey found about 75% of U.S. households, approximately 94 million homes, planned to have a Christmas tree this year. About 84% of those are artificial trees and 16% are farm grown. People looking for a live tree likely will see the effects of the June heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest.

In a mid-November talk on the effect of the heat wave on Christmas trees in Oregon and Washington, Oregon State University researchers Chal Landgren and Judy Kowalski said the heat had a sometimes-severe effect on local tree farms because 95% of local Christmas trees generally are grown without irrigation. 

Fraser firs, Grand firs and Nobel firs tended to be the most damaged, they said, while Douglas firs seemed to have the least scorching damage.

Pruitt said at the church’s lot, they mostly are selling Douglas firs, and shorter ones than usual. Other species were much harder to get this year, but he’s optimistic and already planning for next year. Half of the proceeds from the sales at the Valley View lot go to an orphanage in Cambodia and the other half goes to buying coats and backpacks for local children.

“Honestly we’re looking in 2022 to expand past the coats and backpacks because last year was a record year for us,” Pruitt said, and this year in the Safeway lot is shaping up to be even better. 

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The tree stand is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. while supply lasts. Six- to seven-foot Douglas firs are $55 and 7- to 8-foot Douglas firs are $65, he said. People can also make a donation over the cost and put their name on a whiteboard, which had about 90 names on it earlier this week.

Bornstedt said he and several other Elks volunteers drove to the Salem area to pick up some of the trees, which they are selling for the same price as last year despite the difficulty in getting some of them. He said that’s because the group has a long history with the lots they buy from and got orders in early.

“We’ve had some people come in and tell us about increased prices out there and I tell them you can’t blame them. They had to pay a premium price wholesale for the trees,” he said. “They have to pass that on to you.”

Bornstedt said as of Wednesday, the lot had hit its breakeven point from the tree purchase and sold about 270 trees. All the money from the remaining trees sold will be donated. This year has been pretty typical, Bornstedt said, unlike last year. The Elks purchased about 900 trees for 2020, anticipating more families would want holiday cheer after the hard year.

“Last year was an aberration. It was crazy,” he said. Sales went well until Dec. 12 or Dec. 13, when it was like “somebody shut the spigot off.”

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“I think people who had money bought them early, and the people who didn’t have any money just didn’t buy them (last year),” Bornstedt said. “Folks were paycheck to paycheck and it was just the COVID and all that stuff.”

The Elks ended up discounting trees, but still had about 100 left over. They hit their donation goal, however. This year, Bornstedt said they went with 700 trees, but he can go cut another 50 himself if needed, and “we probably will.”

“This year has been real good,” he said. “Last Sunday we set a record and sold 85 trees.”

The lot is off the corner of Grade and Ash streets and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day until Christmas or until they sell out, which Bornstedt estimated could be around Dec. 18.