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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 19, 2007

Hawaii inspectors seize 1,200 Christmas trees

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer

State agriculture inspectors yesterday quarantined about 1,200 Christmas trees after four shipping containers were found to be infested with an unknown species of yellow-jacket wasp.

Inspectors plan to search at least 50 more containers today.

The first large cargo of Christmas trees of the season arrived from the Pacific Northwest on Saturday, and by late yesterday, agriculture inspectors had gone through half of the more than 100 containers, said Janelle Saneishi, spokeswoman for the state Department of Agriculture.

Four of the containers each holding about 300 trees contained some species of yellow-jacket wasp, Saneishi said.

"There are lots of different species of yellow jackets, and there are yellow jackets here," Saneishi said. "But they shouldn't be in those containers."

Agriculture inspectors today will go through the rest of the containers that arrived at Honolulu Harbor on Saturday and also shake each of the quarantined trees looking for live yellow jackets, Saneishi said.

"They'll take those containers to plant quarantine and shake every tree to make sure there are no live wasps in there," she said.

Saneishi was unsure last night what the exact procedure would be if inspectors find any live insects.

Last year, three containers full of Christmas trees were sent back to the Mainland because some of the needles were infested with needle midges.

Kim Canamore, of Canamore Tree Farm in Oregon City, Ore., said yesterday that Hawai'i agriculture inspectors visited farms like hers this year to cut down on problems.

The inspectors wanted to learn how the trees bound for Hawai'i are harvested, Canamore said, and to try to keep pests from coming to the Islands.

Canamore shipped 15 containers full of trees that arrived Saturday, saying they were "the best."

Yesterday's discovery of yellow jackets represents the latest twist in a Hawai'i Christmas tree market that has swung dramatically in the last few years, depending on growing conditions on the Mainland and supply and demand in the Islands.

In 2003, some retailers that faced a glut of trees sold some for as little as $1 just before Christmas to get rid of inventory. The next year, retailers cut back on their orders and ended up creating a statewide Christmas tree shortage that sent some people scrambling into craft stores to find materials to create last-minute artificial trees.

This year, Christmas tree growers in the Pacific Northwest said an unseasonably cool and wet fall meant Hawai'i would receive one of the best shipments ever of full and lush trees.

"This is the first year that the trees are super good," said Richard Tajiri, of Christmas Hawaii, who has been importing Christmas trees for 30 years.

Bambi Strauch, of Bambi's Christmas Treeland in Oregon, said: "They're the best they've been in a long, long time. They're meatier and greener. I was pretty excited. They'll be some fat, full little guys this year."

Sales of Christmas trees started on Saturday at some retail establishments, such as the Don Quijote store in Kailua that received a small shipment last week, said Chris Loretero, seasonal manager.

"They're selling," Loretero said. "They're doing all right. They do look a lot better than last year."

The first shipment of only about 17 containers arrived on Nov. 11, and those were promised to some O'ahu retailers such as Don Quijote and Neighbor Island stores.

The latest, bigger shipment that arrived on Saturday will go to the Neighbor Islands, hotels and large retailers such as Home Depot, Tajiri said.

Next Saturday, the bulk of Hawai'i's Christmas trees will arrive for this year, followed by a smaller shipment on Dec. 1, said Jeff Hull, Matson Navigation Co. spokesman.

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Putting up the Christmas tree

Reach Suzanne Roig at sroig@honoluluadvertiser.com.