Add the Environment to your Holiday Gift List

Choosing holiday presents for friends and family is an age-old challenge. But one gift that's likely to be a hit with everyone on your list is a Real Christmas tree. Not only do Real Christmas trees provide beauty and fragrance, they offer environmental and economic benefits as will as useful products. It's like giving a gift to Mother Nature.

"Unlike artificial Christmas trees, Real trees are renewable and recyclable," says Paul Battaglia, president of the California Christmas Tree Association. "However, many people still perceive cutting trees down as bad for the environment and that's not the case."

During the four to six years or more it takes a Christmas tree to mature, the trees provide a number of benefits to the environment. Battaglia notes Christmas trees produce oxygen as they grow and serve as filtering devices for dust and smog. As trees develop, needles are shed naturally and the surrounding soil is enhanced. The trees also become home to birds and small animals and serve as winter habitats for deer and other wildlife.

Fifty years ago, Christmas trees were often cut down in forests and not replaced with seedlings. But today, nearly all Christmas trees, 98 percent, are grown on farms. According to the California Christmas Tree Association (CCTA), for every Christmas tree harvested, two or three more are planted.

"Christmas trees are like other crops. They are meant to be harvested, just like corn or vegetables," says Battaglia. "Since trees are a crop, they are managed on a sustainable basis."

Christmas tree production is a sustainable process, notes Battaglia, because the trees are "environmentally friendly" in their own right. Tree roots stay in the soil after trees are cut, holding the soil in place and preventing erosion. Battaglia says Christmas tree growers are also known for their widespread use of inputs such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM) which is a balanced and environmentally friendly approach to pest control. In addition, most trees are harvested by hand, not by machine, and are harvested only as needed.

"We have found that raising trees on farms fosters diversity in the types and number of animals present in the environment," says Battaglia. "We don't see any reduction in wildlife with Christmas tree farms, we just see an exchange in the types of wildlife present in farms versus non-planted forests."

Once real trees are discarded after the holidays, they can be recycled into such products as sand dune stabilizers, coastal shore fish habitats, fuel chips or bird feeders. Christmas trees can also be processed into mulch for hiking trails and landscapes or placed into brush piles for use as animal habitats.

Such recycling is not possible with artificial Christmas trees, says Battaglia. "Artificial trees are manufactured from non-renewable sources, such as petroleum-based plastics, steel and aluminum," he says. "All of those resources must be refined or processed for use in artificial trees, which consumes a lot of energy and produces emissions of environmentally unfriendly things such as sulfur dioxide." After several seasons, most artificial trees end up in a landfill because they cannot be recycled. Artificial trees are primarily produced and imported from other countries, too.

Add the environment to your gift list this year. It will probable be the easiest gift to decide on...a Real Christmas tree.

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