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Our Noble Fir

November 30, 2009

On Saturday afternoon, my husband Damon and I spent a few hours, a tank of gas and $5 on a permit to get a live Christmas tree from the National Forest. As I contemplate the pine-winey presence of this young Noble Fir in my living room, I wanted to share with you some of the environmental surprises this tradition poses for me.

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, Americans buy about 30 million real Christmas trees a year and the USDA reports that about a quarter of these come from Oregon. This year, thanks to the softening economy, Oregon’s tree farmers are in trouble. Mature, ready-to-harvest Christmas trees are staying in the ground, even though by next year they’ll be too big to harvest for home-use. Cost-conscious customers are either skipping a tree completely or going artificial. This latter alternative remains a thorn (or a blue spruce needle?) in the side of the tree farming industry.

As you might expect, artificial trees introduce problems into the seasonal cycle of Christmas tree growth, harvest, and replanting. Artificial trees are imported, inorganic (with scary levels of PVC) and non-recyclable. They’re flammable, chemically-laden, and can’t offer the scent or soulful experience of a real tree. In contrast, real trees can be sustainably farmed and are completely biodegradable (hello firewood!). If you’re going to get a Christmas tree, the NCTA wants you to go real or go home.

And I’m persuaded. The NCTA’s renewable vision of harvesting real trees resonates with my aesthetic and environmental ethos. To get our tree, we traveled up road #2655 to a designated harvest area in the McKenzie River Ranger District (the Forest Service sells maps and permits at gas stations). I loved actually hiking with our dogs and friends along mountain roads, crunching through a few feet of snow and feeling the sun on my face after so many days of indoor studying. This excursion brought us out of ourselves; we walked around trees from 20 to 200 feet tall. When we found an 8-foot tree, we cut it down with a handsaw and carried it over snow-buried rhododendron bushes to our car.

I find a familiar problem in choosing a tree from the National Forest instead of a tree farm; like Thoreau, I want to live deliberately and come into contact with the wilderness that is not human. Yet I recognize that buying from a Christmas tree farm might be more collectively sustainable act than the romantic excursion of a few friends driving into the mountains. At the same time, I want to remember the sun on my face.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. emilymcg permalink
    November 30, 2009 5:12 pm

    Thanks for that. I’ve been contemplating the same things this week. Also, yesterday I read an article in the Times about the role of the forest of the Pacific Northwest.

    Human intervention into nature seems to always lead to more problems than we can anticipate. Apparently saving forests in an effort to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere runs the risk of making the forests artificially dense (through current logging practices and preservation efforts) and therefore at a bigger risk for forest fire. These fires would create more carbon than the trees had absorbed negating the whole process. Interesting read, especially with the main focus on Oregon forests.

    • voldfall2009 permalink
      December 9, 2009 12:20 am

      When I lived in MT, we often heard about the increased danger of forest fires in protected forest areas (like Glacier Nat’l Park). When absolutely NO FIRES are allowed to burn (as has been our national policy since Roosevelt), the underbrush and deadwood simply accumulates. Then, when fires get out of human control, they burn hot and long, killing trees that might otherwise survive, and doing more damage than they would otherwise. Thankfully, national foresting practices are under revision; lots of policy-makers are paying attention to the broader scope of the science of fire and forest.

  2. Mary G permalink
    December 3, 2009 11:17 am

    Maybe slightly off topic, but I saw this and thought of your post, Veronica.

    An Oregon couple goes missing while searching for Christmas tree:

    A very real consequence of monstrous wilderness?

    • voldfall2009 permalink
      December 9, 2009 12:14 am

      THIS is why we went with friends! Aicorumba. Thanks for the link!

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