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Throughout the U.S., extreme weather events are causing Christmas tree farmers to close up shop and stop planting new trees. In Vermont and New Hampshire, an early March heat wave and heavy summer flooding have wiped out a huge percentage of the local crop. One farmer says nearly half of his trees were washed away in flash floods, and shortages of trees are already starting to be reported in the Northeastern U.S.
The situation is just as bad in the Midwest — in Wisconsin and Michigan alone, about 4,000 young trees withered and died in 2012 due to drought. While some farmers are adapting to the changing weather by planting trees on higher ground or shifting to more heat-resistant varieties, not all growers have that option.
The heavy losses have convinced some farmers to simply cut their losses and sell off their existing mature trees without replanting. The effect likely won’t be seriously felt by consumers for six to ten years, which is the amount of time it takes for a new crop to fully mature. This is bad news for more than one reason. Not only are real trees more eco-friendly than the petrochemical version, they also soak up huge amounts of greenhouse gasses. Fewer Christmas trees on the market may actually have the unintended side effect of accelerating climate change.
It’s not exactly news that climate change is causing unpredictable flooding and heat waves throughout the U.S., but the amount of change in just a few short decades is shocking when you see the numbers. In the last 50 years, winter temperatures in Vermont have risen by 4.5 degrees, actually altering the makeup of the state’s forests. Christmas trees aren’t the only industry being hit by the rising temperatures either: apparently it’s also affecting the amount of maple syrup that can be collected, as the season starts earlier and lasts for a shorter time than it did just a few decades ago.