Fish trees

Once discarded Christmas trees are collected, they’re distributed to lakes around West Virginia, where state personnel prepare them to be sunk and turned into fish-attracting habitats.

CHARLESTON — Your Christmas tree’s life is at its end, but there’s a way to make it grow again.

For the past several years, workers for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Protection and West Virginia Parks have collected discarded trees and sunk them into lakes throughout the state to create fish habitats.

Evergreen trees, even after they’ve lost their needles, have closely spaced branches that provide young fish with places to hide from predators. The trees also provide structure-loving fish such as bass with places to lurk.

“The main function they serve is as fish attractors,” said Mark Scott, the DNR’s fisheries chief. “Reservoirs in this state tend to be habitat-poor. Any kind of habitat helps to concentrate fish and gives anglers places to target.”

Scott said the Christmas tree program has helped agency workers to place thousands of trees into lakes throughout the state.

“They’ve been put in just about all of our major reservoirs, and also in many of our smaller impoundments,” he said.

During his tenure as the DNR’s District 4 fish biologist, Scott said he’s helped sink hundreds of the trees.

“Basically, you tie a weight to the bottom of the tree and drop it into the water,” he explained. “Sometimes I used cinder blocks for weights, and sometimes I used the steel pads off old bulldozer treads.”

At some lakes, where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lowers the water level during the winter, DNR workers are able to drag the trees into place using tracked or four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Program organizers have set this year’s collection goal at 2,200 trees statewide.

Last year, in what was considered an “off” year, only 700 trees were donated at the Capitol Market.

This year, there will be two principal collection points, Capitol Market and the Bridgeport Recreational Complex, near Clarksburg. If organizers meet the 2,200-tree goal, the trees will be placed in the following lakes: Tygart Lake in Taylor County; Cheat Lake in Monongalia County; Sherwood Lake, Greenbrier County; R.D. Bailey Lake, Wyoming County; and Beech Fork and East Lynn lakes, Wayne County.

Three of the five major lakes in the state’s central region also will receive trees: Stonewall Jackson Lake in Lewis County; Burnsville Lake and Sutton Lake in Braxton County; Stonecoal Lake in Upshur County; and Summersville Lake in Nicholas County.

Each lake designated for habitat improvement will receive about 200 trees.

Reach John McCoy at johnmccoy@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1231 or follow @GazMailOutdoors on Twitter.