In search of the perfect Juneau Christmas tree

Artificial or imported trees are best bets for hanging ornaments

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2003

Finding a Juneau-grown Christmas tree is more difficult than you might think. Even if a person is lucky enough to find a spot where tree-cutting is allowed, more often than not the tree will lose its needles within a few days of being chopped down.

"Neither Sitka spruce nor western hemlock, which are our two most common trees, hold up very well," said Bruce Johnson, a state forester. "A lot of times they'll lose everything within a week or so."

Most native evergreens dry out quickly, he said. The best species for Christmas ornamenting is the shore pine, which grows mostly on muskeg, Johnson said. But the city and the U.S. Forest Service prohibit Yuletide harvesters from cutting trees in muskeg areas because it's difficult for trees to grow there.

The Forest Service's chopping prohibitions have left very little land legal for tree harvesting, said agency forester Dave Carr.

"There's really not very many places around Juneau, unfortunately.

Most of the land along the road system belongs to the city or is private or belongs to one of the Native corporations," Carr said.

He said the only piece of Forest Service land where tree-harvesting is theoretically possible is a four-mile stretch of road from Eagle Beach to Yankee Cove. But the land along the road is mostly steep hillside and covered in alder.

State lands are no better. Johnson said virtually all state lands that are accessible from roads are state parks and recreation areas. The rest of the state's holdings are mostly hillsides behind private property.

Residents determined to cut their own tree might try city land between Yankee Cove and Point Bridget State Park, or the area between False Outer Point and Outer Point on North Douglas Highway, said Steve Gilbertson, the city's lands resource manager.

"There's a couple areas along the road system that people can access," he said.

But Gilbertson noted that it's becoming increasingly more difficult to find Christmas trees along the road system, adding that he himself owns an artificial tree.

So Juneau residents must either go artificial or buy a tree that's shipped up from Oregon.

Ben Williams, CEO of Alaskan and Proud grocery store, said the Juneau store ordered 60 to 70 Oregon spruce tre year, down from last year.

"The demand for fresh trees has gone down. More people have artificial ones and they're probably not buying anything," Williams said.

Fred Meyer ordered more fresh trees from Oregon this year, said general manager Fred Sayer. The store brings up the trees - grand, noble and Douglas firs - and sells them to the Juneau-Douglas High School Swim Club, which then resells them to raise funds. Those trees were to go on sale Saturday.

Sayer said demand for artificial trees has gone up as well.

"The quality on the artificial trees, they've gotten better. They're all hinged trees now, so you don't have to put (the branches) in like you used to. Now they actually just fold down, and they look great," Sayer said.

The store has dozens of different trees, mostly prelit with multicolored or clear lights. They range from 4 to 9 feet in height.

• Masha Herbst can be reached at masha.herbst@juneauempire.com.



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