The Plumpton Park Zoo on North East Creek accepts donated Christmas trees for its animals. Image: Cheryl Costello

How Your Christmas Tree Can Save the Bay

By now, many of us in the Bay region are letting go of our holiday decorations, whether it’s a begrudging goodbye to Christmas or a welcome de-clutter for the new year.

If you bought a real tree instead of an artificial one, there are a growing number of ways you can recycle it—beyond just putting it on the curb for your county’s yard waste collection. Some methods even benefit Chesapeake Bay wildlife. Here are some options you might like to consider.

As Bay Bulletin has reported in the past, used Christmas trees are collected to serve as black duck habitat at Poplar Island, the heavily-eroded isle rehabilitated over decades using dredged materials from the Port of Baltimore’s channels. Trees from Eastern Shore residents are collected, and biologists create small cavities in the trees to act as ready-made nests. Then the trees are mounded around in a pile to create habitat.

Not just waterfowl, but zoo animals also embrace recycled Christmas trees. At the upper Bay’s Plumpton Park Zoo on North East Creek, animals from sheep to zebras enjoy snacking on the evergreens. Trees can be dropped off in the zoo’s back lot and cannot have any decorations left on them, says Plumpton Park’s Director and President of the Board, Cheryl Lacovara.

But there are also ways to help the environment in the Bay region without having to take your Christmas tree anywhere further than your own yard. Jonice Underwood, board member of the Maryland Christmas Tree Association, says that many communities collect the trees and chip them for mulch. They can also be used in water settings to provide shelter for fish and help control erosion.

The National Christmas Tree Association also highlights use of Christmas trees for sand and soil eorosion barriers, to stabilize shorelines and manage sedimentation. In a private fish pond, trees serve as refuge or a feeding area for fish. Put your tree in your garden or backyard and use it as a bird feeder and sanctuary for birds. “Fresh orange slices or strung popcorn will attract the birds and they can sit in the branches for shelter,” the association says. Eventually, the tree will become brittle enough to break it apart by hand or with a chipper. Lastly, if you planned ahead with a rooted, containerized tree, you can plant it in your yard immediately after Christmas.

-Meg Walburn Viviano