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When it comes to the environmental impact of Christmas, it turns out stringing lights and hanging toy soldiers on an artificial tree isn’t necessarily a better choice over chopping down a live one. With programs like the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Christmas Tree Habitat program, I have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to the environment every time I choose a real tree.
Having a real tree has long been an important part of my Christmas experience, as it is for many families. I don’t think I knew artificial Christmas trees existed until I moved to Arkansas and as an adult, became more concerned with my environmental footprint.
Because of their reusability, artificial trees seem like an excellent choice. But due to the combination of materials, these trees can’t be always be recycled. When that fake fir turns ragged, the plastic and metals manufactured into green branches are tossed out into the landfills or illegally dumped onto an earth that can’t do anything but absorb chemicals leaching into the ground.
Research suggests for an artificial tree to have a benefit over choosing a real tree, it must be reused for as many as 20-30 years, an unlikely scenario for most households.
Until a real tree is cut, it cleans the air, provides habitat and shade, prevents erosion and collects groundwater. When it biodegrades or burns, the tree is considered carbon-neutral because its carbon emission is equal to what it removed from the air while alive.
Purchasing a real tree has a direct benefit to the local economy. Christmas Tree Farms all over Arkansas are run by families who depend on people’s holiday tree-hunting tradition to earn a living. To ensure product year after year, trees are replanted often at a higher rate than they are cut down.
After being cut and decorated and enjoyed by families, these trees can give back to nature long after Christmas has faded into a new year. The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission made this possible when it launched its Christmas tree program in 2006. This process benefits both anglers and fish by giving trees a new life as a fish habitat.
In a program reminiscent of “leave a penny, take a penny” containers on the gas station counters, the commission is calling on Arkansans. Christmas trees will be collected at various pre-approved locations through the end of January (see the list below). These trees will benefit fish habitats in lakes and bodies of water across The Natural State.
How does it work?
Anyone with a real Christmas tree may take it to a drop-off location and leave it near the indicated boat ramp. Anglers may then collect the trees and place them into designated waters to create habitat coverage for fish.
Randy Zellers, the commission’s assistant chief of communications said, “The number one benefit of this program is that it creates a place for anglers and fish to meet.” Anglers can use the trees to create their own fishing honey holes.
“The second benefit is the habitat potential for fish. Especially in smaller lakes and for predator species like bass and crappie, these artificial habitats provide them a spot to hide so they may ambush their prey.”
As the trees break down in the water, they will also create algae and provide a small boost of nutrients to the smaller fish species.
Zellers offered this advice for those participating in the program:
For those wishing to donate trees:
For those wishing to sink trees for fish:
Zellers estimates that each year, over 1000 trees are collected and added to fish habitats across the state. Real trees, even non-native ones, can provide a valuable benefit to fish and anglers. Any trees not claimed and sunk by anglers will be collected by commission personnel and dropped into the bodies of water where they were left. No Christmas tree is wasted, and you can feel good about deciding to purchase a real tree.
For more information, you can visit AGFC.com.
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