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Recycled Christmas Trees Create Fish Habitats

January 13, 2010

Trees collected in January will become new habitats for Lake Norman fish

From The Charlotte Observer

By Jenna-Ley Harrison – Special Correspondent

Imagine that decked out holiday tree, once proudly displayed in your home, now lying 30 feet below the surface of the lake, creating a home for hundreds of fish.

A common post-holiday practice for Christmas trees across the United States, Lake Norman residents have been catching on for years.

So why the lake and not the dumpster?

Gus Gustafson is a fishing guide in the Lake Norman area. Photo courtesy of Gus Gustafson

According to Lake Norman fishing guide and licensed United States Coast Guard Captain Gus Gustafson, this annual tradition proves advantageous for the lake’s population of fish species.

Not only do the trees attract and provide cover for smaller fish, such as crappie and bass, but trees also offer fish a place to gather and grow, an added bonus for fishermen.

“Every fisherman wants to look for brush piles, whether natural or man-made,” said Gustafson.

He also mentioned that, with this incentive, a number of individuals without permits illegally dump Christmas trees into the lake at night to conceal the location of a potentially lucrative fishing spot.

“It’s illegal to put anything into the lake unless it’s supervised or approved by the power company or North Carolina Wildlife Federation,” said Gustafson.

He noted that trees are collected from area residents and local tree lots, and, due to the trees’ quickly rotting soft wood, the practice must be done each year to ensure good fishing.

Gustafson, who is also an advisor for the Lake Norman Marine Commission, helps maintainpublic water safety and recreation and noted the particular hazards regarding this practice.

Due to the lake’s annual rising and falling, water depths periodically change throughout the year, turning once harmless depths into shallow danger zones where rotting trunks are exposed. A potential peril to both swimmers and boaters, this downside to tree disposal also proves to be an eyesore for lake-goers and residents.

Another problem includes anchoring the submerged trees.

“If they break free, they are a hazard to navigation,” Gustafson said.

Therefore, trees are placed in a standing position within the holes of a cinderblock and sunk 10 to 30 feet below the surface. Anywhere from 15 to 30 trees can be submerged in one location.

According to Mark Lancaster, president of the N.C. Wildlife Conservation and owner of Lancaster Custom Dock & Lift Systems Inc. in Mooresville, a number of volunteers including those from the wildlife commission and Duke Energy collect the trees, which are later dropped into the water by “fisher-tractors,” large instruments made of plastic PVC pipe. Each “tractor” can hold up to three trees at a time.

However, there’s no rush if you’re still admiring your tree.

Trees will continue to be dropped into the lake throughout January and February.

Original story and photo from The Charlotte Observer:


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