On Saturday morning, the Arizona Game and Fish Department joined forces with Boy Scouts and volunteers to drop off discarded Christmas trees in Saguaro Lake. It is located about 45 minutes east from Phoenix. These trees were not the end of their journey. It’s a chance to live a second life.
The trees will provide much-needed habitat for fish in the reservoir.
On the overcast day, 50 volunteers volunteered to load hundreds of trees onto a boat equipped with underwater sonar. Participants who volunteered last year said that the moderate weather was responsible for the large turnout.
Six locations on the lake’s floor were suitable for the trees to fall. The trees were anchored to the lake bottom by cement cinder blocks.
The combination of pine, fir, and spruce will create nooks for the many fish living in Saguaro. It will also add structure to their environment. The fish species include bluegills, catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel cats, crappies, yellow bass, and channel cat.
Bryant Dickens, aquatic habitat specialist at the state game and fish division, stated that the trees will provide a refuge for plankton and smaller fish, creating an entire ecosystem.
Dickens said that all these lakes were created many years ago for hydroelectricity and water retention. “There is a lot of structural habitat in these lakes. But, nowadays, all that has decomposed and broken down is gone. Fish require structural habitat throughout the lake to thrive.
Dickens stated that while AZGFD has been dropping items in the lake for some time to create fish habitat, theChristmas tree project was revived a fewyears ago. It’s partof a program runby theMesa EnvironmentalManagement and Sustainability Department. The purpose of the program is to collect trees at drop-offpoints where owners have thrown them.
The agency also collects trees that are not sold from retailers like Home Depot.
Mariano Reyes, a city department marketing and communications specialist, said that “it’s a creative reuse opportunity with positive environmental benefits.”
When the holiday ended, collections began. The endeavor created fish habitat and helped reduce waste by sparing trees in the incinerator.
Boy Scout Troop325 of Queen Creek helped raise awareness about the event. He reached out to Dickens who had previously helped another scout earn the Eagle badge in an AZGFD project. Townsend hopes to do the exact same with this year’s tree drop.
Townsend, who is 14. “Having everyone work together in an organized group is great. There’s no arguing and just a lot hard work.
Townsend and his fellow scouts raced from boat to beach, helping to load the trees onto the bow. Once the boat was in deep seas, they helped untangle the knots between the cinderblocks and the tree trunks, before dumping the trees into water.
The trees will stay upright in the water, creating a high-rise like environment for fish. The needles will eventually fall off, and the trunks will sink into the bottom of the lake.
The smallest pieces will eventually begin to disappear and decompose over time. After about five to six year, the main trunk will be gone, along with some of its larger branches, according David Weedman who is the aquatic habitat program manager for the state. If they are bigger than your thumb, or larger than your wrist, then those branches will be gone.
Local anglers and fish lovers were also attracted to the event, who value large stocks of healthy fish. Saguarois is not considered a natural lake, so the majority of the fish were brought there from hatcheries.
The trees will help maintain a healthy environment that encourages growth and mirrors the natural environment where fish would be able to access. SaguaroLake, which is located on the Salt River and is part of Salt River Project’s system ensures that fish have access to water and fishermen have a place where they can recreate.
“This is my second year doing this,” said Roger Luth from Apache-Junction. “And this is just amazing what they’re doing because these trees are going to protect the smaller fish.”
Weedman shared some of the reservoir’s benefits. He pointed out that one of the bright spots is the possibility to bring people together. Mid-morning began to see the sun peek through the clouds and trucks continued to roll in trees. The agency dropped 732 trees in the lake that Saturday with the help of volunteers.
“I believe that it was a huge success based upon the amount of trees that were placed into the lake, how long it took, and the number volunteers that were out there. Weedman said that we got a lot done.”I don’t think anyone really had to work hard because we had many hands do the work. It was also a success from a fish habitat perspective.
The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust has provided a grant to support environmental coverage on azcentral.com. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team atenvironment.azcentral.comand @azcenvironment onFacebook,TwitterandInstagram.
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