New life for old trees: Post-Christmas greenery makes for excellent fish habitat

For a week starting Jan. 2, Charleston County residents can bring their Christmas trees to the Bees Ferry Landfill recycling center and receive a free bag of mulch.

Although it may seem a bit early to sound the death knell for the household Christmas tree, it’s not too soon to think about the possibility of a new home for it.

Consider the bottom of Lake Moultrie, where 19 “fish attractors” marked with buoys are built out of old evergreens. The same holds true for Lake Marion, home to a dozen of the man-made habitats for little fish and the big ones that eat them.

“They make really good fish habitat,” said Mark Schlievert, Berkeley County director of solid waste.

Holiday trees brought to the county landfill are set aside for the state Department of Natural Resources to use for its fish-attractor program. “Whatever they don’t take becomes compost,” he said.

To build a fish attractor, a half-dozen or so Christmas trees are sunk by weighting them with a cinder block. “It’s been a real successful program for us,” said DNR spokesman Brett Witt.

Fish attractors are marked with buoys. DNR asks that the public not toss a tree at such a site because it could create a navigation problem.

There are other wildlife-related, ecologically sensitive options for old Christmas trees. They can be used to help create a brush pile where small critters can escape predators, DNR says.

“We’re getting to the time of year when the leaves have dropped and the landscape is more open. However, cover is still a part of a healthy wildlife habitat,” said Tammy Wactor, DNR wildlife biologist.

“Although the needles of old Christmas trees will brown and fall off in two or three months, if you get enough trees piled up they will make a pretty good cover,” she said.

In years past, holiday trees have been used to help stabilize sand dunes at locales such as Folly Beach, but that practice is now frowned upon. Concerns include inappropriate placement, impact to dunes and native vegetation, and the potential for trees to contain tinsel, hooks and plastics.

“The better idea is to have trees mulched and used for landscaping away from the beach,” said Mark Plowden, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

DNR officials also visit the Charleston County Bees Ferry Landfill to pick through the trees for fish attractors. Charleston County asks that people remove lights, tinsel and ornaments from their trees, which can be taken to one of the more than 40 convenience centers for recycling.

Take the tree yourself to the landfill and receive a free bag of compost from Jan. 2 through 9.

Dorchester County residents can take Christmas trees to the Miles Jamison Road Landfill and the Sandy Pine Landfill, an official said.

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