Thinking of drowning your Christmas tree?

Be aware that the intentional placement of trees in a lake or stream to create fish habitat requires a permit from the State of Michigan.

Now that the tinsel, lights and decorations have been taken down and packed away it’s time to figure out what to do with that natural Christmas tree. A recent Michigan State University Extension article on the environmental effects of Christmas trees encourages the “re-purposeful” disposal of your natural tree. “Drowning” your tree to create fish habitat in your favorite lake or stream is one idea, but requires planning ahead to secure a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

Once submerged, the complex branching of Christmas trees have the potential to create cover and hiding places for young fish. In fact, there is a fair amount of scientific inquiry into the role of fallen trees and branches, referred to as coarse woody habitat (CWH), in sustaining fish populations. With shoreline development and the removal of trees to create views, fewer falling branches make their way into the water. On highly-developed lakes, branches that do fall into the shallow, near shore area are often removed by lakefront property owners concerned about boating, swimming and aesthetics. These practices reduce the amount of large wood available for fish habitat. A 2006 University of Wisconsin study found that “Maintenance of CWH appears to be crucial for sustaining desirable fishes and fisheries in lakes. Changes in CWH produce complex, long-lasting effects at the ecosystem scale.”

On the other hand, it has been the practice of some lakefront property owners to place their Christmas trees out on the ice so they can fall into the lake come spring – creating CWH for fish on bottomlands. This seems like a good idea, but should not be done without a permit from the State of Michigan’s Inland Lakes & Streams Program.  

According to the MDEQ, Christmas trees are regulated as “fill” and carry with them concerns about navigation, riparian rights and bottomland ownership. So if you’re thinking of ‘drowning’ this year’s tree to create fish habitat, think again. Without a permit you will be in violation of state law

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