Christmas trees from around the parish, which were nestled inside homes and decorated with lights a couple of weeks ago, will soon move on to another purpose - stopping erosion of the Bayou Gauche wetlands.
St. Charles Parish residents will be able to recycle their live Christmas trees by leaving them at the curb for pickup by public works crews until Jan. 19. Trees must be stripped of all decorations and flocked trees will not be accepted.
St. Charles Parish has been reusing Christmas trees for coastal restoration since 1987 and has been at its current project in the Bayou Gauche area for the past nine years.
"The trees have been used to protect the existing shorelines in the area from wave action and to slow the tidal flow within the marsh. The results have been the shallowing of the open water which has resulted in the renewed growth of emergent vegetation from the water bottom," Earl Matherne, the parish’s coastal zone management administrator, said. "This results in an overall improvement in water quality and fisheries habitat."
Unlike other trees, Christmas trees are large and lightweight and allow the movement of water and sediment without being a barrier. The limbs are also organic and provide an ideal fisheries habitat. The brush fences that are created by the trees allow the creation of marsh habitat, while also providing an effective wavebreak and increasing water clarity.
The prototype of the current brush fence was actually implemented for the first time in St. Charles Parish in 1989. At that time, 23 brush fences were built and filled with 8,000 used Christmas trees obtained from local citizens. The fences were inserted into the La Branche Wetlands.
The project really took off after that, and in 1996, former President Bill Clinton donated 50 Christmas trees from the White House, which were all placed into the Louisiana marsh. Throughout the past 17 years of the program, more than 40,000 linear feet of brush fences has been built, protecting 250 acres of marsh.
Not only is the project beneficial because it protects the wetlands, but it also relieves overburdened landfills.