In West Virginia’s scenic Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, with its gently sloping mountains and emerald acres of timber, Mike Powell relishes the perks of his job as a caretaker of the land: the sounds of a gurgling stream and the fresh pine scent of evergreens.
But one sight deeply troubles him — the haggard look of the valley’s fabled Christmas trees. Some are bent like old men. The eye-popping green hue that makes people want to adorn them with ornaments had yellowed. A few were covered with hideous waxy balls, a telltale sign that they were under siege by the balsam woolly adelgid, a tiny insect with a notorious reputation among entomologists, who call it “the bug that ate Christmas.”
Along the southern Appalachian range, they are eating two of the nation’s most popular wild Christmas trees — Canaan and Fraser firs — to death.