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Don’t toss that Christmas tree: It could make a great home for fish

A Missouri state biologist sinking a Christmas tree in a lake to build fish habitat.
Missouri Department of Conservation
Missouri Department of Conservation fisheries biologists sink used Christmas trees in lakes, such as Spanish Lake and Lake Lincoln, to provide shelter and food for fish.

State and local government officials in Missouri are offering to collect natural Christmas trees to be turned in to mulch or fish habitat.

After Christmas, residents of St. Louis, St. Louis County and St. Charles County will be able to drop off trees at various parks and recycling centers. Most trees collected by St. Louis’ forestry division and St. Charles County will be processed through a chipper and turned into mulch that residents can use for home gardening.

St. Louis County is working with the Missouri Department of Conservation to collect trees for fish habitat.

State conservation officials have been running an annual program for more than three decades to sink trees into lakes. The trees provide shelter and food for young fish and invertebrate organisms that live in lakes, said Kevin Meneau, fisheries management biologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation.

“Especially in urban lakes that don’t have a lot of habitat to begin with, this really helps provide habitat to those fish that isn’t there for any other reason,” Meneau said. “Some of these lakes have no habitat if it weren’t for the Christmas-tree program.”

The Missouri Department of Conservation also takes some of the trees collected by the city of St. Louis and St. Charles County. The agency sinks an average of 3,000 trees a year, but last year, the agency was able to collect about 8,500. Cedar, pine and spruce trees especially provide good habitat for fish, Meneau said.

The department’s Christmas-tree-collection program has promoted crappie, largemouth bass and bluegill populations.

Because Christmas trees can still be useful after the holiday, officials recommend having trees brought to a drop-off location instead of dumping them at the curb.

“We’d rather not have people dropping them off on the side of the road or disposing of them, because that is a wasted resource,” said Ryan Tilley, division director of environmental health protection for St. Charles County.

If residents choose to drop off their trees, local officials advise removing ornaments and lights. The tree otherwise does not need to be chopped into smaller pieces or altered.

Ornaments, lights and plastic trees often can’t be recycled, said Ian Ashcraft, an environmental specialist at the St. Louis County Department of Public Health. A few recycling centers and home-improvement stores in the St. Louis area are offering to collect lights.

“We always recommend reuse — if that means a friend or family member, or donating them to a resale shop,” said Ashcraft.

St. Louis: Dec. 26-Jan. 11

Forest Park: Lower Muny parking lot

Carondelet Park: the intersection of South Grand Boulevard and Holly Hills Boulevard

O’Fallon Park: the intersection of West Florissant Avenue and Holly Avenue

St. Louis County: Dec. 26-Jan. 14

Creve Coeur Park: 13777 Marine Ave., St. Louis

Queeny Park: 550 Weidman Road, Ballwin

Bee Tree Park: 2701 Finestown Road, St. Louis

Spanish Lake: 12500 Spanish Pond Road, St. Louis

St. Charles County: Dec. 26-Jan. 12 (unless otherwise noted)

Recycle Works Central: 60 Triad S. Drive, St. Charles

Recycle Works West: 2110 E. Pitman Ave., Wentzville

Quail Ridge Park: 560 Interstate Drive, Wentzville

Laurel Park: 181 Driftwood Lane (upper parking lot), St. Peters

St. Peters Earth Centre: 115 Ecology Drive, St. Peters

Progress Park: 968 Meyer Road, Wentzville (Jan. 2-Jan. 18)

Heartland Park:100 William Dierberg Drive, Wentzville (Jan. 2-Jan. 18)

Rotary Park: 2577 W. Meyer Road,, Foristell (Jan. 4-Jan. 18)

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

Eli is the science and environment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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