Christmas trees give W.Va. lakes a fishy boost

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Christmas trees give W.Va. lakes a fishy boostWV Gazette Reported 1st: Stacking trees isn’t exactly glamorous fisheries work, but to DNR biologists Jeff Hansbarger (left) and Nate Taylor, it’s part of the job. Between now and late spring, they plan to sink more than 400 used and surplus Christmas trees into the waters of West Virginia’s Beech Fork and East Lynn lakes.

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.”

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