- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

LAVALETTE, W.Va. (AP) - In the true spirit of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” state fisheries officials have collected hundreds of discarded and surplus Christmas trees.

All those pines, firs and spruces - gathered at strategic sites throughout the state - will soon be home to bass, crappie and other game fish. Division of Natural Resources workers plan to sink the trees into habitat-poor reservoirs to create places where fish can lurk.

“Last year we sank 200 trees at East Lynn and Beech Fork lakes,” said Jeff Hansbarger, fish biologist for the state’s southwestern counties. “This year we plan to put 400 in each reservoir.”

The lakes need the trees because they don’t have much sunken timber or aquatic plant life. In natural lakes, those elements provide places for young fish to hide from predators and places where predators can hide and ambush prey.

Most of West Virginia’s reservoirs were built primarily for flood control. To prevent logs and other debris from clogging up the lakes’ outlet structures, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cut down trees that otherwise might have created good fish habitat. The result, Hansbarger says, is a collection of lakes with relatively poor habitat.

“Anything we can do to improve the fish-holding capacity of those lakes is a good thing,” he adds. “That’s where the Christmas trees come in.”

For the next several months, Hansbarger and other DNR workers will sink the trees they’ve gathered into the waters of Beech Fork, East Lynn, Stonewall Jackson, Stonecoal and Tygart lakes.

“At Beech Fork and East Lynn, our plan is to put about 200 trees offshore and about 200 trees close to handicap-accessible ramps and other shoreline access sites,” Hansbarger says. “We’ll anchor the trees with concrete blocks to keep them from drifting away.”

To help anglers find the sunken trees, Hansbarger plans to attach marker buoys to them.

“We want anglers to be able to tell at a glance where the trees are,” he says. “We’re trying to make the buoys uniform and recognizable, so people can identify them from a distance.”

For tech-minded anglers, DNR officials plan to record the Global Positioning System coordinates of every tree and tree cluster. Those coordinates will then be marked on the DNR website’s interactive online lake maps.

“Anglers will be able to download the coordinates of the structures they want to target,” Hansbarger says.

Tree placement is nothing new; DNR fisheries workers have done it for years. The difference in this year’s effort is its sheer scale.

“The question is whether we want fish attractors or if we want fish habitat,” Hansbarger says. “When you put out a few trees, you have fish attractors. When you put out a lot of trees, you have habitat. We’re hoping that if we put out enough, we’ll get that change in habitat we’re hoping for.

“Not only do the trees provide places for young fish to hide and larger fish to feed, they provide places for algae and plankton to accumulate. All of this helps create a better place for fish to live.”

Another benefit, he adds, is that the trees get used for more than just holiday decorations.

“If we weren’t doing this, all those trees would be going into landfills. We have visions of using even more of them in the future. They only last two to three years before they disintegrate, so down the road we’ll be replacing the ones we’re putting in now. We have in mind not only putting them into large lakes, but into some of our smaller impoundments as well.”


Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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