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Protect Oregon's brand

Just in the St. Nick of time, the Oregon Department of Agriculture is preparing a new rule to prevent Christmas trees from being imported from other states carrying invasive pests.

Last November, McKenzie Farms imported a batch of 8,000 Fraser firs and sent half of them to Lowe’s stores in California as Oregon trees.

That’s a big deal. Oregon leads the nation in Christmas tree production, shipping about 5 million trees a year. And the Oregon brand has a reputation for high-quality, clean trees.

So it was also a big deal when the North Carolina trees shipped to California were found to be infested with elongate hemlock scale, an Asian pest that has become established in the eastern United States but not in Oregon — yet.

Those trees were destroyed or shipped back to North Carolina.

The Agriculture Department is proposing new rules to prevent a recurrence. A temporary rule already is in place. The proposed rules would require anyone importing Christmas trees or cut evergreen branches to notify the department in advance. The imported items would be held for at least two days for potential inspection before they could be sold.

Oregon’s reputation as a source of fresh, high-quality Christmas trees would be badly damaged if consumers realized they were being sold North Carolina trees as Oregon products. If those trees were diseased, the damage to Oregon’s brand could be even greater.

Agriculture Department officials should adopt the new rules to protect the state’s Christmas tree industry and the health of Oregon forests.