Christmas Trees Get Recycled Underwater in Arizona Residents of northern Arizona have an ecologically helpful option when it's time to get rid of their Christmas trees. In Lake Havasu, in the middle of the desert, Bureau of Land Management employees dump used trees to create an artificial reef for fish habitat. From Arizona Public Radio, Gillian Ferris Kohl reports.
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Christmas Trees Get Recycled Underwater in Arizona

Christmas Trees Get Recycled Underwater in Arizona

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Residents of northern Arizona have an ecologically helpful option when it's time to get rid of their Christmas trees. In Lake Havasu, in the middle of the desert, Bureau of Land Management employees dump used trees to create an artificial reef for fish habitat. From Arizona Public Radio, Gillian Ferris Kohl reports.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

All right, if your Christmas tree is still in your living room shedding needles, you may consider donating it to a recycling program, in particular, an underwater recycling program like the one in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. We have an explanation this morning from Gillian Ferris Kohl of Arizona Public Radio.

(Soundbite of Christmas trees being loaded)

GILLIAN FERRIS KOHL reporting;

On the shores of Lake Havasu at Partners Point, two men work under the winter sun loading an Army-green forklift with Christmas trees. It's an odd sight in the desert landscape virtually devoid of trees. It's also unusual because the trees are being loaded onto a 40-foot pontoon boat.

Mr. PAUL RUTHERFORD (Bureau of Land Management): I've got a rope tied around the brush, the Christmas trees, and I'm tying another rope to it with a sand bag on it. But this stuff is a little bit lighter. Most pine is, and it tends to float a little bit. So we want to keep it down on the bottom.

KOHL: Paul Rutherford is a boat captain for the Bureau of Land Management's Fishery Maintenance Division. Over the past 13 years, he's sunk thousands of Christmas trees and other types of brush into the depths of Lake Havasu.

Mr. RUTHERFORD: We will have artificial structure, about 822 acres of it, in about 40-some-odd different coves. And what I'll try to do is I'll either try and stack them or I'll try to put them in a row like a reef. And that becomes fishing structure.

KOHL: The sunken Christmas trees provide a hiding place for small and endangered fish to escape from larger predators. While Rutherford loads the boat with trees, his colleague Kirk Koch explains why.

Mr. KIRK KOCH (Bureau of Land Management): Typically, you don't get a whole lot of wood washed into Lake Havasu from our desert environments. There's none to generate. So the Christmas trees and our brush program is trying to replace what the river used to do for us.

KOHL: Koch says what the river used to do was bring in loads of brush and debris, but several dams upstream have stopped that. Now the Christmas trees provide fish habitat, especially important because the lake is a huge draw for fishermen. Nearly 200,000 a year visit to enjoy what Koch calls `the product.'

Mr. KOCH: So far, we have seen some really dramatic improvements in the number of fish. The angling community is very happy with the product to date, and that's got some really major economic values to our community, not to mention the environmental aspects and the social. Catching a fish can be priceless, you know.

KOHL: Back at the boat ramp, Paul Rutherford and his crew are ready to head out on the lake with their load of Christmas trees.

Unidentified Man #1: Are we ready?

Unidentified Man #2: Yeah, tell them to go ahead.

(Soundbite of boat motor starting)

KOHL: Rutherford speeds across the clear water and pulls into a calm cove.

Unidentified Man #1: Right there.

KOHL: With the push of a button, hydraulic ramps on the pontoon rise up and the Christmas trees slide off into the water.

Unidentified Man #2: ...dump.

Unidentified Man #1: Got it.

(Soundbite of metallic clanging)

Unidentified Man #1: Down to be new fish homes.

KOHL: The trees slowly disappear into the water. They come to rest about 17 feet down, the heavy sand bags anchoring them into the mucky lake bottom. The Christmas trees are clearly visible on Rutherford's sonar screen.

Mr. RUTHERFORD: This is the underwater structure that we just put down there and as you can see, we're gaining more and more fish as we're cruising along. They want to stick right next to it. It kind of like becomes their home, you know, their little thing they want to hide behind.

KOHL: Rutherford estimates there are about 4,000 Christmas trees resting at the bottom of Lake Havasu, and thousands more have been submerged in similar fish habitat projects in man-made lakes, dammed lakes and marshes across the country.

For NPR News, I'm Gillian Ferris Kohl.

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