TU Wants Your Christmas Tree
Trout Unlimited, a national cold water conservation organization with more than 300,000 members, would like to have your Christmas tree. That may seem an odd request but instead of tossing it onto a curb or over a stone wall or watching it get crushed in the back of a dirty garbage truck, many local Chapter 225 members would like to place it on a riverbank. All you have to do is take off tinsel and ornaments, drive to Arcadia (or find a neighbor like me who’s already going) and feel good about helping fish and water. TU wants your Christmas tree to help protect cold water fish, like trout and charr.
I’ve long been miffed by the conundrum of Christmas and trees, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus by killing a tree. I understand most come from Christmas tree farms, where saplings are raised, trimmed and fertilized for an inevitable December fate. Cut from the land, they get tightened up with nylon mesh, stuffed in trailers and shipped all over. It’s business and helps economies and sells more plastic mesh but it still seems odd. Then again, once ours is covered with ornaments, which comes only after we have our yearly argument over which tree will fit best, the tree does release a lovely balsam smell with an air of magic.
TU wants your Christmas tree because TU’s Rhode Island chapter, 225, has a vision to ensure that habitats for cold water and estuary fish thrive in Rhode Island for future generations. They want to restore, reconnect, protect, and maintain waters with fish and people who love them so recycling trees makes perfect sense. This all started several years ago, when some people thought straightening out rivers to aid fishing and transport or to eliminate the unsightliness of trees and foliage hanging in and over them, which created pools, cooled waters and sheltered fish, was a lovely idea. Thankfully, that idea soon faded from favor when anglers and biologists understood that nature understands far more than we do. Rivers and streams are curvaceous by design and not every stretch was made for human footprints, or worse, a road. Want to talk about lovely?
Roll the word “roadless” around your head for a few minutes and watch how far away you travel. Nonetheless, fallen trees, loose timber, stream detritus and logjams are all part of her plan. What Trees for Trout does is help undo what we did when we didn’t understand what we were doing.
Corey Pelletier, a Fisheries Biologist with RI Department of Environmental Management, runs the show. He knows fish, fresh and salt, because they are his day job and his passion. In all my years writing about RIDEM and associated projects, I’d say Corey is the best thing to happen to that agency and freshwater fishes in decades. What Corey does with Trees For Trout is organize a day when he can gather trees, store them until spring, then assemble volunteers, including members of chapter 225. On collection day, members meet in the Check Station parking lot, unload people’s cars and trucks, thank them for, as 225 President Glenn Place says so often, the generosity of their time, then load them on trucks and trailers for winter storage. Last year, local veteran Brian Thornton, who was not even yet a TU member, brought a big trailer and helped haul a few hundred trees. He was the real-life holiday spirit of generosity.
Christmas trees can make a big difference in a river
Come springtime, Corey and his team of interns and volunteers will position trees on specific parts of rivers, like the Wood River. Once laid prostrate and secured, the tree that held your child’s kindergarten picture or that one weird globe ornament whose origin no one can recall, will collect silt and sand, leaves, twigs and unfortunately some plastic. All that will help bend the river, slow water, protect shorelines from erosion and after time, provide shade. That shade will be cooler, which helps trout stay alive in tricky summer months when flows are low, temperatures are high and there is the constant avian and human overhead threat.
TU wants your Christmas tee to help slow waters. This month, we had a near historic flow in the Wood River. At one point, water was flowing at 956 cubic feet per second. For comparison, 124 cfps is a yearly average. That heavy flow can erase stream banks, wash away timber and destroy redds where trout and charr spawn. Those Christmas trees help slow destructive forces. Nature surely puts fish in protection mode to help them from being swept to Little Narragansett Bay but considering our impact on Nature, it also benefits from our assistance.
If you would like to donate your Christmas tree to the Trout Unlimited Trees For Trout program, please drop them off between 9:00am and 2:00pm on Saturday, January 6, 2024, at the Check Station on Route 165 and Mt. Tom Road in Exeter, RI. If you need more information, please search for Trees For Trout on my fishwrapwriter website or the TU225 website. And if you live in the South Kingstown area, send me an email and I’ll do my best to gather yours and get it in Brian’s trailer. One tree can help celebrate the season in your house; bless us with a bit of your magic and give back to a pretty stream teaming with fish searching for cover. Thank you and Happy Holidays.