Using Christmas Trees for Habitat Restoration

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In the weeks after Christmas, millions of households in the United States will be setting out their Christmas trees at the curb.  About 25-30 million Christmas trees are sold each year inn the United States.  With over 4,000 local Christmas tree recycling programs, some of these trees are being used in ways that might surprise you.  Beyond the standard mulching that many municipal programs engage in, trees are being used to restore habitats.

Using Christmas Trees to Create Fish Habitat

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife resources submerges fish into lakes to built fish habitat.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFW) resources submerges fish into lakes to built fish habitat. Photo: KDFW

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife uses discarded Christmas trees to create underwater habitat in lakes.  Submerging the trees in the water and securing them with cable creates safe spaces for juvenile fish to hang out.  Christmas trees are cheap to place into lakes and last for several years, making them a cost-effect and simple solution. The submerged trees create burst reefs which also provide nesting and rearing habitat for fish as well as habitat for invertebrates.

Other federal and state conservation agencies also use this strategy to build fish habitat.  This video below the surface in Cave Run Lake in Kentucky shows how submerged Christmas trees attract fish such as Crappies.

Christmas Trees Help Restore Coastal Habitat

The needle structure of Christmas trees also makes them beneficial for coastal restoration.  Christmas trees have been successfully used to trap sand for dune restoration.  After Hurricane Sandy, Christmas trees were used along beaches on the New Jersey shoreline to rebuild protective dunes.  By burying the trunks into the sand in a zig zag patterns along beaches, the branches slow down the wind, allowing new sand to deposit.

Beach in Waterford, Connecticut using Christmas trees for beach restoration. Photo: Jennifer O'Donnell.

Beach in Waterford, Connecticut using Christmas trees for beach restoration. Photo: Jennifer O’Donnell.

The Louisiana Army National Guard hosts an Annual Christmas Tree Drop.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) uses the trees to create a wave break in open ponds at Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest urban refuges in the United States.  Recycled trees collected from New Orleans protect the marsh habitat by reducing erosion and trapping sediment, creating better conditions for supporting native marsh grasses.  The Louisiana Army National Guard uses the tree drop as a training exercise, placing the trees in sites selected by the USFWS.

The Louisiana Army National Guard places Christmas trees in strategic locations to help restore marshland in Bayou Sauvage. Photo: USFWS

The Louisiana Army National Guard places Christmas trees in strategic locations to help restore marshland in Bayou Sauvage. Photo: USFWS

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