The beloved Christmas Tree: another victim of climate change?

Christmas tree farm

Flikr creative commons: Ian Sane

This year's record heat has caused serious losses to Christmas tree growers across the nation.

The high temperatures and dry weather, associated with climate change, have caused all sorts of havoc for farmers,  and Christmas tree seedlings are especially vulnerable for it can take over a year for them to establish their roots.

Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation in Christmas tree production, with about one million trees harvested a year from over 1,100 farms. According to state figures, over 20% of Wisconsin Christmas tree farms experienced damage from drought this year. Some farms in the central sands region witnessed 50-75% of their fields being devastated by severe drought with a loss of 40% or more of their trees.

Northern states like Wisconsin have it easier than those in lower latitudes. Indiana lies to the south, where farming of certain types of trees has been nearly impossible due to the increasing likelihood of dry conditions. Climate change is causing growing zones to change drastically, according to Lindsey Purcell, a forester with the Purdue Extension Service.

Not surprisingly then, farmers in Tennessee saw one of the greatest declines - 80% of the trees they planted this past year were lost, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. More than 166,000 trees are harvested yearly in Tennessee from 177 farms across the state.

Because Christmas trees are cut after eight to ten years of growth, tree buyers may not notice the effects of these recent droughts for several years. It is likely that prices will increase in future years, though, as this pattern continues. Many farmers are already planning to switch to more drought resistant crops due to this year's predicament.

The forecasted effects of climate change are many and varied, but it seems almost unimaginable to celebrate Christmas without the treasured tradition of a tree.

Artificial trees are a pale substitute with a much greater impact on the environment. Farmed Christmas trees can actually help fight climate change, and they also contribute to the many benefits provided by all trees: clean air, healthy soil, prevention of flooding and erosion, and habitat for wildlife. 

These are also the reasons that our national forests are so important, and why we work to protect them. The Wilderness Society also advocates for conservation funding so that the effects of climate change don't destroy the lands owned by all Americans and the wildlife that depend on them.