Using Christmas Trees for Habitat Restoration

Caitlin Dempsey

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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 for Backyard Habitat

The Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia has suggestions for how to use your old Christmas tree in your backyard to benefit wildlife. Strategically discarded Christmas trees can provide cover for rabbits and other small animals.

Christmas trees in your backyard can also provide a warmer place to roost at night for songbirds and quail as the dense branches trap warm air. Keeping edible decorations on the tree such as popcorn and cranberries can also provide food during the winter for birds and small animals.

Using Christmas Trees to Create Fish Habitat

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.

A photo os two Kentucky state conservations using a small boat to ferry Christmas trees that will be dropped into a lake.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KDFW) resources submerges Christmas trees into lakes to help build fish habitat. Photo: KDFW

Other federal and state conservation agencies also use this strategy to build fish habitat.  

How Submerged Christmas in Lakes Trees Attract Fish

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 sand 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.

A line of Christmas trees lying on a beach for sand erosion control.
Christmas trees are used along beaches and in sand dunes for erosion control. Photo: © Debbie / stock.adobe.com.

Using Christmas Trees to Protect Marsh Habitat

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

References

Berman, G. (2020, December). The Use of Discarded Christmas Trees for Sand Dune Stabilization. Woods Hole Sea Grant. https://seagrant.whoi.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Xmas-tree_web.pdf

Mitchell, D. (2013, January 4). Don’t toss your tree: Help local wildlife. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/827-dont-toss-your-christmas-tree.html

“Upcycling” Christmas trees to create fish habitat. (2018, December 19). California Department of Fish and Wildlife. https://wildlife.ca.gov/Science-Institute/News/science-spotlight-upcycling-christmas-trees-to-create-fish-habitat1

Using Christmas trees to trap sand. (2016, July 22). Connecticut Beaches and Dunes: A Hazard Guide for Coastal Property Owners. https://beachduneguide.uconn.edu/is-the-beach-is-eroding/using-christmas-trees-for-erosion-control/

See Also

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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