Invasive pest rides Christmas trees to West Coast

Around 8,000 Christmas trees that were imported along the West Coast could potentially carry an invasive insect.

Tillamook County Commissioners have been advised that a tree-killing pest is trying to invade Oregon forests. Christmas trees left outdoors for weeks or months after the holiday could be harboring harmful insect eggs.

Cody Mann

At the Jan. 2 board of commissioners meeting, Ed Wallmark, a forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Tillamook Protection Unit, joined David McCall, Tillamook County Solid Waste Program manager, in briefing the commissioners about the elongate hemlock scale, an invasive insect originating from North Carolina.

Wallmark said around 8,000 Christmas trees that were imported along the West Coast could potentially carry the insect. Those trees were sold at Lowe’s Home Improvement and Home Depot, according to Wallmark.

“If we have this problem out there laying around in a pile, before somebody burns it or something to that effect, it could escape and go into the surrounding forest,” Wallmark said.

According to an ODF statement issued in late December, the invader arrived in Oregon this past fall. The Oregon Department of Agriculture found it and ordered infested trees destroyed, but not before some were shipped out.

If the insect invades Oregon and puts down roots the state’s timber economy could suffer. It attacks not only hemlocks but also several native conifer species such as true firs, spruce and Douglas fir. The scale feeds on the underside of the needles, creating a yellowish-brown waxy layer.

McCall told the commission that in light of this threat, Solid Waste’s annual Christmas tree collection program would take appropriate precautions, including extending the free service through Jan. 31. Bring trees to any Tillamook County transfer station during normal working hours. No coupon is necessary.

In the past, the majority of the discarded trees were used in fish habitat restoration projects. That’s not happening this year – instead every tree will be chipped and sent to a composting facility that bakes the wood chips at 131-143 degrees for at least three days, destroying any pests or pathogens.

Commission Chair David Yamamoto was surprised to learn that Christmas trees were being imported to Oregon, the leading grower in the nation. “This is a pest that I don’t think we want in Oregon,” he said.

The Manzanita Transfer Station is currently closed, slated for reopening by Jan. 17, according to McCall. Once reopened, it will accept trees until Jan. 31. Until then, the public can dispose of their trees as well as their recycling at the other two transfer stations in Tillamook County:

Tillamook Transfer Station, located at 1315 Ekloff Road, is open daily 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Pacific City Transfer Station, located at 38255 Brooten Road, is open Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.