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Issue Home December 22, 2010 Site Home

Buying A Real Tree Is A Good Thing
Over The Limit, Under Arrest

Starrucca Bag Ladies Making A Difference

Holiday Fire Safety
Lions Club Honors Residents, Past Members
Check Vehicles, Pack Emergency Kit

Buying A Real Tree Is A Good Thing

UNIVERSITY PARK - The question of whether it is environmentally correct to buy a real Christmas tree has been asked repeatedly in recent years, and an expert in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences wants to lay it to rest permanently.

The answer, according to Ricky Bates, associate professor of ornamental horticulture, is an emphatic, "Yes!"

"It's a silly debate - you can breathe easier knowing Christmas trees are being grown," said Bates, whose research deals with problems faced by the nursery and Christmas-tree industries. He conducts research and extension education programs aimed at improving the profitability of these businesses.

"Christmas trees in the United States provide the daily oxygen requirements for millions of people."

And if better breathing is not enough, people can rest easier knowing that real trees are a renewable resource. "Approximately 34 million trees are sold every year, and more than enough seedlings are planted to replace them," he said. "A million acres nationally are in Christmas tree production.

"In the final analysis, Christmas-tree farms benefit the environment in a number of important and diverse ways. Reducing soil erosion, creating habitat for wildlife and sequestering carbon are just a few practical benefits realized via tree farming."

When a Christmas-tree seedling is planted on a farm, it usually is already three or four years old. Depending upon the species, it may take another seven to 10 years to produce a marketable tree.

Some people contend that producing real trees doesn't require burning fossil fuels, as do artificial trees, but it is not that simple, according to Bates. "Actually, the environmental impact of producing Christmas trees or any other agricultural commodity is more complicated than it may appear, and the question needs to be considered in the context of overall benefits and costs," he said.

"For example, fossil fuels are consumed by equipment to produce trees on farms, but these same trees also sequester carbon over their lifespan."

Finally, buying a real tree every year is good for the economy. Bates estimates that there are more than 15,000 Christmas-tree growers in the United States. The industry employs approximately 100,000 people. The total Christmas-tree crop recently was valued at more than $360 million.

It doesn't appear that the recent economic downturn has had much of an impact on the tree industry. "People still are buying Christmas trees," Bates said, "probably because displaying a Christmas tree is an important tradition for many families, and it does not represent a very large expense."

Buying a real tree is especially good for Pennsylvania, Bates contends. "There are approximately 2,000 Christmas-tree producers in the state who grow approximately 46 million Christmas trees," he said. "About 2 million of them are harvested annually. Six million new Christmas-tree seedlings are planted in Pennsylvania every year.

"In recent history, Pennsylvania typically has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation in the number of Christmas-tree farms," he added. "In terms of acreage and/or dollar volume of sales, Pennsylvania usually ranks behind only Michigan, North Carolina and Oregon.

"The Keystone State is an excellent region of the country to grow Christmas trees due to a combination of acceptable, well-drained soil types and somewhat moderate temperature conditions. Proximity to population centers along the East Coast also is an advantage."

In Pennsylvania, the Douglas fir and Fraser fir are the two most important species, comprising more than 70 percent of the acreage in the state, Bates noted. Other species grown include white pine, blue spruce, concolor fir (also called white fir) and Scotch pine.

"If there is a favorite, or one most-desired tree by consumers, it likely would be the Fraser fir, due to its excellent needle retention and fragrance," he said.

Being a Christmas-tree guru, one might expect Bates to offer a secret method to keeping a tree purchased in early December fresh until at least New Year's Day or even a bit after. "Not really," he said. "It's pretty straightforward. Keeping a cut tree fresh during the holidays is largely an issue of water. Anything you can do to keep the tree hydrated will keep it fresh."

Start by making a fresh, quarter-inch cut around the base of the tree if it has been more than two days since it was harvested, Bates advised. Use a tree stand with a water reservoir of at least 1.5 gallons - a freshly cut, average-sized tree can use up to a gallon of water each day.

"Refill the stand with clean water regularly so that the water level does not drop below the base of the tree," he said. "Keep the tree away from heat - don't position it near heating vents. Douglas fir and Fraser fir should remain fresh inside a house for four or five weeks."

After the tree is used, consider alternative disposal methods, he urged. Many communities have recycling programs - some offering curbside pickup - and will convert the tree into mulch.

"Used trees also make great fish habitats when placed in farm ponds or lakes," Bates said.

To see a publication offered by Penn State Cooperative Extension, titled "Caring for Your Cut Christmas Tree," authored by Bates, go to

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Over The Limit, Under Arrest

Harrisburg, PA - As party-goers celebrate the holidays with friends and family, everyone should heed the reminder from the Pennsylvania DUI Association to keep the party off the road or be ready to face the consequences. Law Enforcement will be out in force cracking down on anyone driving under the influence.

"After hearing about the dangers of drinking and driving time after time, most people have gotten the message that if they're planning on drinking, they should always plan a safe way home," said Stephen Erni, executive director. "But sadly, many Pennsylvanians still think they are invincible and regularly choose to get behind the wheel after having too much to drink."

Annual Commonwealth DUI crash and fatality statistics reflect the fact young males were at particularly high risk, with nearly one-quarter admitting to riding with someone who should not have been behind the wheel in the past year.

"We know that the holiday season can be one of the deadliest and most dangerous times on Pennsylvania's roadways due to an increase in drunk driving," said Director Erni. "Don't let your 2010 end in an arrest or worse, death. Remember, whether you've had way too many or just one too many, it's not worth the risk!"

During the 2009 Christmas and New Years holidays in Pennsylvania, there were 1,275 crashes in which 13 people were fatally injured.

The Pennsylvania DUI Association recommends these simple tips for a safe holiday season: plan a safe way home before the festivities begin; serve non-alcoholic beverages; limit the amount of alcoholic drinks consumed; serve plenty of food - particularly protein such as meats, cheeses and nuts; before drinking, designate a sober driver; if you're impaired, use a taxi, call a sober friend or family member, or use public transportation.

If you happen to see a drunk driver on the road, don't hesitate to report it via 911. And remember, friends don't let friends drive drunk. If you know someone who is about to drive or ride while impaired, take their keys and help them make other arrangements to get to where they are going safely.

For more information, please visit

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Starrucca Bag Ladies Making A Difference

The Starrucca Bag Ladies were filmed recently for possible airing on NBC-TV's Nightly News with Brian Williams as part of the “Making a Difference” segment, hopefully during the week of December 20. The Bag Ladies are part of a network of groups making sleeping bags - called "Ugly Quilts" - for the homeless in nearby cities. The founder, Flo Wheatley of Hop Bottom, organized My Brother's Keeper Quilt Group in 1982. Information on the project can be found at Pictured above, an NBC photojournalist with (l-r) Kay Wallace of Ararat, Brigitte D'Agati of Starrucca and (hidden) Vera Halesky of Thompson.

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Holiday Fire Safety

Quincy, Mass. - While it may seem Scrooge-like to think about fire hazards during the holidays, many of the activities people engage in - cooking, entertaining, and decorating - all present increased fire risks. According to the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), candles and Christmas trees play a role in these incidents.

Fortunately, the vast majority of holiday fires are preventable, notes Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of communications.

“Certainly, no one needs to abandon their holiday traditions and activities,” says Carli. “But by understanding where potential hazards exist, and making some minor adjustments, people can greatly increase their homes’ and loved ones’ safety, and enjoy the season as planned.”

NFPA offers the following information and advice to ensure a festive and safe holiday season:

Cooking: Cooking equipment fires are the leading cause of U.S. home fires and fire injuries, and the third leading cause of home fire deaths. In 2008, relative to an average day, the number of home cooking equipment fires was 55% higher on Christmas Eve and 68% higher on Christmas Day.

Stay in the kitchen while you’re frying, grilling or broiling food. Most cooking fires involve the stovetop. Keep anything that can catch fire away from it, and turn off the stove when you leave the kitchen, even if it’s for a short period of time. If you’re simmering, boiling, baking or roasting food, check it regularly and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking. For homes with children, create a “kid-free zone” of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food and drinks are prepared or carried.

Christmas Trees: U.S. fire departments annually respond to roughly 260 home structure fires that began with Christmas trees. One third of them are caused by electrical problems, and one in five resulted from a heat source that’s too close to the tree.

If you have an artificial tree, be sure it’s labeled, certified or identified by the manufacturer as fire-retardant. If you choose a fresh tree, make sure the green needles don’t fall off when touched; before placing it in the stand, cut 1-2” from the base of the trunk. Add water to the tree stand, and be sure to water it daily. Make sure the tree is not blocking an exit, and is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces, radiators, candles and heat vents or lights. Use lights that have the label of an independent testing laboratory, and make sure you know whether they are designed for indoor or outdoor use. Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords, or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini-string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Never use lit candles to decorate the tree. Read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of LED strands to connect. Always turn off Christmas tree lights before leaving the room or going to bed. After Christmas, get rid of the tree. Dried-out trees are a fire hazard and should not be left in the home or garage, or placed outside the home. Bring outdoor electrical lights inside after the holidays to prevent hazards and make them last longer.

Candles: December is the peak month for home candle fires, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day representing two of the five top days for associated fires. NFPA statistics show that more than half of all candle fires start when placing them too close to things that can burn.

Consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. If you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed.

Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over and are placed on uncluttered surfaces. Avoid using candles in the bedroom where two of five U.S. candle fires begin or other areas where people may fall asleep. Never leave a child alone in a room with a burning candle.

For additional resources and information about holiday fire safety, including audio clips, videos and safety sheets, visit NFPA’s website at

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Lions Club Honors Residents, Past Members

The Stone Bridge Lions Club of Susquehanna recently held a dedication ceremony at Lakey’s in Susquehanna. The program began just outside of Lakey’s on Saturday, December 11, where the club and supporters gathered to dedicate a flag to Chris Davis. Area boy scouts and cub scouts joined in by performing the first flag raising. Following the flag dedication, Leonard Kello dedicated stones to Chris Davis and all past deceased members of the Lions Club. A special presentation was also made honoring Bill Finnegan in appreciation of his devotion to chairing various fundraisers for the club. All enjoyed refreshments following the presentations. Fore more information on the Stone Bridge Lions Club of Susquehanna call (570) 853-4853.

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Check Vehicles, Pack Emergency Kit

Harrisburg - With temperatures and wind chills hovering in the teens or lower, PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E., urged motorists to be sure that their vehicles are properly serviced and contain a well-stocked emergency kit.

“One of the biggest risks that a driver can take is to venture out during the winter months without ensuring that their vehicle is properly prepared for the rigors of winter driving,” Biehler said. “It takes less than 10 minutes to do a quick ‘winter-ready’ inspection of a vehicle and pack an emergency kit; two simple steps that will help keep drivers safe this winter.”

To perform a “winter-ready” inspection on your vehicle:

Check that fluid levels are full.

Make sure wipers do not streak; consider installing winter wiper blades.

Ensure that the heater and defroster work properly.

Check that vehicle’s radio is working properly so you can receive weather and traffic reports.

Make sure all lights are working.

Check to be sure all tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread depth. A quick way to check tread depth is to insert a penny in the tread groove with Lincoln’s head upside down and if you can see the entire head, your tires will not provide safe traction in ice, rain and snow.

If you live in an area prone to heavy snow, consider using dedicated snow tires on your vehicle or carry a set of tire chains. At a minimum, your all-weather tires should be mud and snow rated.

When pulling away from where your vehicle was parked, look for evidence of fluid leaks. If found, contact a mechanic immediately.

PennDOT also urges motorists to pack a winter emergency kit for each vehicle that they own. The emergency kit should contain at a minimum:

flashlight and batteries; battery-operated radio; jumper cables; extra cell phone batteries and charger; snow shovel; matches and candles; first-aid supplies; extra warm clothing, gloves and boots; blanket; ice scraper; sand; bottled water; non-perishable food; and anything else you may need to accommodate passengers (special medication, baby supplies, pet food, etc.).

Motorists can create their own personalized checklists with the template provided online at, PennDOT’s winter website. More winter driving tips and information on how PennDOT treats winter storms are also available on this website.

“We want all motorists to be ready, be wise and be safe this winter season,” Biehler said. “That includes using good judgment about whether it is necessary to travel when weather conditions are poor.”

When preparing for winter travel, motorists can check road conditions on more than 2,900 miles of state roads by calling 511 or visiting 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, average traffic speeds on urban interstates and access to more than 500 traffic cameras. The 511 site also provides easy-to-use, color-coded winter road conditions for all interstates and other routes covered in the 511 reporting network.

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