Christmas Trees Protect Wetlands

Recycling Program Uses Fences in Coastal Areas

An article by: Dr. Bill Good, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Restoration Division Administrator published in the Louisiana Environmentalist Jan-Feb 1994.

Last updated: 01/17/97

 

What happens to Christmas trees after the holiday season is over? Like many other household items, they can be recycled.

Since 1989, the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its Coastal Restoration Division (CRD) have been conducting a Christmas Tree Fence Program, using trees to help protect state's coastal wetlands. Over 429,000 trees have already been used in erosion-control projects since the program began.

Typically, a Christmas tree fence is based on a simple design and utilizes familiar materials. A treated wooden fence, or "pen", is constructed in a shallow open-water area. Then the Christmas trees, donated by Louisiana's citizens after the holiday season, are placed into the pen.

A fence project of this type can enhance wetland habitats in several important ways. It provides an effective wave-break that can reduce marsh-edge erosion; enhance water clarity, thus allowing more aquatic vegetation to become established; and provide important reef areas for many fish and crustacean species.

Where there is sufficient suspended sediment in the water, a properly implemented project can stimulate the formation of new marsh by allowing the sediment to settle out of the water and deposit itself on the bottom. As water moves through the trees and sediment is deposited behind the fences, vegetation can then become established on the new marsh soil.

DNR and CRD initiated their first large-scale Christmas tree fence project in the LaBranche wetlands of St. Charles Parish in 1989. Because of the project's success, many of Louisiana's coast parishes have participated in the program each subsequent year.

The Parish Coastal Wetlands Restoration Program provides $10,000 to each participating parish for Christmas tree fence construction and other low-cost restorations efforts such as vegetative plantings.

"Christmas tree fences not only benefit marshes, they also increase citizens' awareness of the urgency of protecting our precious coastal resources," says DNR Secretary John Ales. "An added environmental benefit is that we recycle trees back into nature instead of adding them to already overburdened landfills."

Eleven coastal parishes participated in the 1992-1993 program, with approximately 180,000 trees utilized. Jefferson Parish alone collected more than 130,000 trees and was assisted by the Louisiana National Guard in placing the trees into their fences, which were located in remote marsh areas.

Vermilion Parish chose to use the $10,000 to plant saltwater-tolerant vegetation along a fragile stretch of the Vermilion Bay shoreline.

Nine coastal parishes are participating in the 1993-94 Christmas Tree Fence Program. Most parishes are restocking or rebuilding existing fences. Participanting parishes are Calcasieu, Cameron, Iberia, Jefferson, Lafourche, St. Charles, St. Martin, Terrebonne, and Vermilion.

Some parishes utilize volunteers to assist in placing trees. As with any volunteer effort, strict safety precautions should be followed. Volunteers are not utilized in the fence construction process, however, because of the inherent dangers associated with construction in a marsh environment.

Before any work can begin, all appropriate permits must be obtaines, such as DNR's Coastal Use Permit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Section 404 and Section 10 Permit, and landowner permission.

Additional information on Christmas tree recycling may be obtained by contacting:

Coastal Protection & Restoration Authority
(225) 342-7308

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality 602 N. Fifth Street Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Call or e-mail a hotline · Office Address/Phone listing · Locate a DEQ employee
Call 1-866-896-LDEQ or e-mail our Customer Service Center with questions or comments