Christmas Tree Helicopter Harvesting

By: Hannah McWhorter
December 22, 2021
Christmas Tree Helicopter Harvesting
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Millions of Christmas trees are shipped across the United States each year, serving as the focal point of an important tradition. The holidays wouldn't be the same for many families without evergreen boughs covered in sentimental ornaments and beautiful string lights. Often we don't think about the intense processes that are used to get everyday things into our homes, and Christmas trees, for many, are no different. Some people are able to go to their local pine tree farm and pick one out with familiy, however many people don't have this luxury and have to order them or pick them up from a store. Many of these trees come from farms in Oregan, where one helicopter company has pushed the boundaries of harvesting efficiency. 


JL Aviation, founded by Jeff Linscott, handles a handful of different utility work and external load jobs from game surveys to firefighting and scientific research support. In the winter, the company starts to anticipate their 34-day sprint with McKenzie Farms trying to help harvest 800,000 trees in time to get them to families for Christmas. For 29 years, JL Aviation and McKenzie Farms have worked together to get trees safely out in time for shipments. To make this process as efficient as possible while still preserving the health of the trees, trained cutters will begin to cut the trees that will be taken away. Bundlers take ropes and wrap them around roughly 700-pound loads (or, 12 to 14 trees), and then in an extremely elegant maneuver, the helicopters so that their dangling remote hook can be reached by someone to hook the tree load onto. The helicopter then gracefully takes the load of trees over to the loading pile and quick releases them there, heading back to the field for another person to hook their tree bundle onto their handing device. 



These helicopter operators work long, hard hours to get the trees out of the fields during the allotted time. Mike Nowak, a third-year flier, states that "When we have our pre-harvest safety meeting, Jeff always reminds us: 'This is a marathon, flown like a sprint. Sometimes you feel like it's a battle — you versus the trees and the elements and the clock. But when you get into a groove, it's like a dance — precise yet smooth, rhythmic, and fast — the pilot, the machine, the crew and the trees all melding together into a symphony of efficiency."


All of this work may seem like overkill, but McKenzie Farms says that these harvests are five times more efficient than a traditional harvest where you manually remove the cut trees from the field. Along with increased efficiency, it helps protect the trees in travel as they aren't drug through the mud in order to get to their destination, which can lead to snapped branches and further distress the trees. The ways that plants are grown and delivered into the loving hands of green thumbs around the nation are extraordinary, from the loving small nurseries that provide us with carefully grown greenery, to the large pine tree farms that help usher in the holiday spirit every year. 


For more information, check out Vertical's article that dives deeper into this partnership and their process!