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Where are all the trees?

Robert Shaffer

BURBANK -- Just in time for Y2K is the great Christmas tree famine of

1999.

Noble firs, the most popular species of holiday tree sold in Southern

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California, are hard to find this year.

“There is a shortage,” said Gary Casella from his tree lot at Burbank

High School. Casella, who has donated more than $100,000 to the school in

the past eight years in exchange for the space, said the shortfall is not

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for lack of trying.

“We just haven’t been able to buy nobles,” he said.

Casella has sold more than 3,000 of the popular trees this year, but

on Friday he had only 20 left for the rest of the season. And he is not

alone.

“What I’ve got is all I’ve got,” said Dave Stevenson of Stevenson’s

Christmas Trees, which had about 350 trees remaining on its San Fernando

Road at midweek. “There are no more coming.”

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Local sellers are not just feeding hysteria to line their pockets with

extra Christmas money, said Bryan Ostlund, an executive secretary with

the Salem, Ore.-based Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Assn.

Planters in Oregon and Washington didn’t plant enough trees in the

early 1990s to keep up with increasing demand today, he said. Hard

economic times kept them from increasing the acreage for trees, which

take seven to 10 years to grow.

According to the group, 34 million to 36 million trees will be

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harvested nationwide for the holiday that celebrates the birth of Christ.

Oregon produces the most, followed by North Carolina and Washington.

During the recession when prices were low, hardware and grocery stores

began to dip into the $360-million industry, Ostlund said. That trend has

continued according to one local economist.

“Traditionally, you bought a Christmas tree from a leased lot,” said

Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic

Development Corporation. “Now you have mainstream merchants getting

involved. The trend in retailing is the seasonal item of the moment.”

Most trees that end up in Burbank living rooms come from Oregon and

Washington and migrate south on the Golden State (5) Freeway in December.

Noble firs, one of 60 species of Christmas trees, are especially hard

to find this year because demand has increased relative to other trees,

Ostlund said.

“Nobles seem to have ideal characteristics -- the needle retention is

good, and they’re a nice, deep green color,” he said.

The trees are more expensive because they take longer to grow and are

more labor intensive, Ostlund said.

Casella, whose family has been in the Christmas tree business since

1937, said he is prepared for next season. He held 3,500 Nobles on his

tree farm in Washington to have extras for Christmas 2000.

“I’m OK for next year,” he said.

TREE PRICES

Prices at Four Burbank Christmas tree lots:

* Burbank High School, 902 N. Third St.

6-foot Douglas fir: $34.95.

5-foot Noble fir: $51.95.

* Burbank YMCA Christmas Trees, corner of Alameda and Olive avenues.

5-to-7.5-foot Douglas fir: $24.

6-foot Noble fir: about $55.

* Stevenson Christmas Tree Sale, corner of San Fernando Boulevard and

Elmwood Avenue.

5-to-7-foot Douglas fir: $21.95.

6-to-7-foot Noble fir: $31.95.

* Oliver Holt Sons and Daughters Christmas Trees, corner of N. Pass

Avenue and Heffron Drive.

6-foot Douglas fir: $24 to $29.

6-foot Noble fir: $42 to $49.


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