Christmas trees have a unique lifespan.
First off, they’re “born” (aka, harvested) at pretty much any age tree-huggers wish.
“Unlike pumpkins – 6 weeks, or people – 53 years, a tree is mature at any age you want it to be which is whenever you need the cash,” Piers Maclaren stated in the New Zealand Tree Grower. “You can produce Douglas-fir Christmas trees at age 3.”
Then, around 30 million or so are harvested by American growers to shine brightly in homes for the holidays. That’s the estimate given by the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, and they would know. The PNWCTA is the world’s largest producer of Douglas-fir but is also known for its Noble and Grand fir as well as several varieties of pine. Of the estimated 30 million trees harvested for Americans during the Christmas season, more than 8 million come from the farms and natural stands of the Pacific Northwest growers, the PNWCTA notes.
After starring in family rooms worldwide, the trees’ lives aren’t done – not by a long shot.
Trees serve long-term purposes when their post-holiday work begins.
Small-scale community recycling programs are well known, well encouraged and well publicized. Residents can leave their dead trees on the curb for pick-up in many communities, which collect them and turn them into valuable mulch to be distributed on public land or given right back out to residents for landscaping. Other trees are ground up into chips for parks and community gardens and such.
Even Rockefeller Center’s famed tree in New York City, a tradition since the 1930s, has a valuable afterlife.
Since 2007, lumber milled from the tree (each plank complete with a “Rockefeller Center” stamp) has been donated to Habitat for Humanity, for which only 2×4 and 2×6 beams are made. The amount of lumber varies based on the size of the tree. The 2018 tree is about 75 years old and weighs an estimated 12 tons.
“Norway spruce lumber is usually creamy white in color and fine-grained,” Rowena Sara, Habitat for Humanity’s senior director of public relations and global communications strategy, described of the Rockefeller Center tree’s regular species of choice. “It’s flexible and durable, which makes it ideal for blocking (the filling, spacing, joining or reinforcing of frames), flooring, furniture, and cabinetry. It is a softer wood, though, so it’s not intended for load-bearing walls.”
Other Christmas tree recycling projects take things up a notch on a wider scale.
For a fifth straight year, the Cape Fear Surfrider Foundation is teaming up with the town of Carolina Beach, North Carolina, to recycle old Christmas trees and put them to good use, according to WWAY TV3 news reports. The Christmas Tree & Dune Recycling Project places 75 disposed of trees along the coast’s dune line in an effort that draws more than 100 volunteers.
Each tree is secured with all natural materials and over time will be buried by sand to rebuild the dunes and prevent beach erosion, WWAY notes. Depending on the weather, the trees will likely not be seen for 6-12 months. The location changes each year and is determined by areas most in need.
Up in Maryland, meanwhile, the Chesapeake Bay Program reports that discarded Christmas trees annually help build waterfowl habitat on Poplar Island, a place where, ten years ago, wildlife habitat had nearly disappeared. In 1997 just 10 acres of the original island remained.
The island today is over 1,100 acres, and the residents of nearby Easton, Maryland, leave their trees on the curb, which are then collected and used as shelter and nesting habitat for black ducks, snowy egrets, red-winged blackbirds, and diamondback terrapins. As a result, chesapeakebay.net reports, wildlife is now “flocking to Poplar Island.”
“Back in 1996, we had ten documented bird species using the island,” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office biologist Peter McGowan states in the report. “Now we have over 170 species that have been documented and over 26 nesting species.”
And down south in New Orleans, the “Annual Christmas Tree Drop” is just what it sounds like.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says that Bayou Sauvage is one of the largest urban refuges in the country, and for migratory birds marks an important stop on their hemispheric travels. The wetlands provide wildlife habitat, a place to connect with nature and help to protect New Orleans from storms.
The Crescent City’s recycled Christmas trees are collected and used to establish a wave break in open ponds on the refuge when a helicopter places them into position from above. These tree jetties create new marsh habitat by reducing erosion, trapping sediment, and building up a plantable structure which will eventually support native marsh grasses, Fish & Wildlife states.
As a result, new land is created in these areas. About 175 acres of marsh in Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge has been restored through this project.