Christmas Trees Help Sustain Sand Dunes and Reduce Beach Erosion

Home Conservation Christmas Trees Help Sustain Sand Dunes and Reduce Beach Erosion
Christmas Trees Help Sustain Sand Dunes and Reduce Beach Erosion

As folks are taking down their holiday decorations, they may be wondering the best way to dispose of their natural Christmas trees.

Fort Macon State Park in Carteret County [North Carolina] has been collecting natural Christmas trees since 1964 and park Superintendent Randy Newman told Coastal Review he thinks around 80,000 trees have been collected in that time.

The park has already begun collecting trees from this holiday season. Visitors can drop their tree off at the end of the fort parking lot.

“The trees are placed along the dune line where the trees act as sand fence catching the sand and building the dunes,” Newman said. “Within a year the tree is normally buried by sand and vegetation is growing on top of it.”

While Fort Macon has a program in place to use natural Christmas trees to build dunes, it’s not ideal for all barrier islands and habitat.

Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist for Audubon North Carolina, told Coastal Review that, over the past three years or so, they’ve noticed more trees being left on Lea-Hutaff Island after Christmas. They also have received some inquiries from groups about doing tree-placement projects.

“In response, we looked into the pros and cons with the Coastal Federation and checked with (Division of Coastal Management) about related regulations. We concluded that unless there’s a need for a cost-effective alternative to installing sand fencing, trees aren’t needed,” she said. “And, unless they are being used as sand fencing they will require their own permit.”

The Division of Coastal Management said in a release last week that property owners, organizations and towns that plan to use natural Christmas trees for dune restoration or beach sand fencing must meet the state’s rules for sand fencing and should submit a Coastal Area Management Act, or CAMA, minor permit application for review to ensure compliance.

Addison explained that generally, for undeveloped barrier islands, the trees are more of a nuisance than a benefit.

“Some of the trees that people have left on the island have washed into the marsh after storms, requiring removal so they don’t harm the vegetation. Some have been put in places that obstruct or diminish bird and turtle nesting habitat. None of them met the state’s regulations. People obviously mean well and want to help barrier islands, but unless the tree is part of an approved placement project, it’s best to pursue other options,” Addison said.

If there isn’t a barrier island project available there are other options, like free mulching programs, which are more eco-friendly than using commercially produced mulch.

“An old Christmas tree is also a ready-made brush pile that is prefect habitat for birds and other backyard critters. Wildlife such as wrens, sparrows, and squirrels will appreciate it,” she said.

Addison added that the organization will place temporary signs letting people know not to drop off their trees.

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