Christmas is a time when we celebrate the season, but it’s also a time when we need to take down trees. Holiday tradition can lead to arguments about what is best for the environment. Is it better to buy a real or fake tree, or to abstain completely?
Steven Roberge, University of New Hampshire forest resource specialist, explained some of the factors that he considers when deciding whether cutting a tree in New Hampshire is an environmental boon.
Roberge says that the first caveat is that it’s not as easy as you might think. Many people assume that the practice is environmentally damaging, but this is not always true.
He said that if trees have been cut in a proper and thoughtful way, I have no problem managing our forest and cutting them.
Christmas trees are slightly different as they are a crop that is grown in a plantation. Roberge said it was like a tomato, except that it has been grown for 8-12 years.
Christmas tree farms are habitat that can provide ecosystem benefits or services to the natural environment. It’s still open space. The soils still absorb carbon and keep it. They filter water. Roberge stated that they provide habitat for critters. This cycle continues because the trees are cut are replaced with new seedlings.
It is possible to support a local farm and keep it open and undeveloped. New Hampshire is losing farm land and forest at an alarming rate. 5,000 acres per annumRoberge stated, “Those acres are almost all being lost to the development.”
Sequestering and carbon storage
Trees also play a role in both sequestering carbon and storing it, which are distinct but related functions. Carbon storageThis is the amount of carbon that a forest stores in both dead and living trees as well as in soil and leaves. The more carbon a forest retains, the older it is.
Carbon sequestration refers to the carbon trees are actively removing from the atmosphere to use as photosynthesis. This usually occurs in young to intermediate forests or trees between 30 and 70 year old. However, trees continue to store carbon throughout their lives at a slower rate.
Roberge stated that the small Christmas trees are unlikely to store a lot of carbon as they are young. However, they are sequestering some carbon because they are growing rapidly. They are a crop and are therefore replaced by trees that take their place.
When forests are converted into developments, both carbon sequestration as well as carbon storage are greatly reduced.
Roberge stated, “If you develop an entire acre of land, you not only lose your ability to sequester carbon for the future, but you also lose the storage capacity of that carbon that’s already on the site.” This is a climate problem.
Weather events become more unpredictable. It is the trees, farm fields, and Christmas tree plantations that are able to absorb four to six inches of rainwater, which pavement cannot absorb, that make the ground more resilient. Roberge said that the more pavement we have, then the better we can weather storms that cause significant flooding and erosion.
End of the game
The final destination of a Christmas tree is an important part its environmental journey.
The carbon from a tree that has been harvested and made into furniture will be kept in the chair for a long period of time to prevent it from being released into the atmosphere. Wood that is cut and burned as fuel will release carbon back into the atmosphere. Wood-burning stoves also emit particulates. Human health is at risk. Wood produces less smoke when it’s burned efficiently and is therefore less hazardous.
The final destination for many Christmas trees in New Hampshire is often a local transport station. Many towns and villages will take such material and put it through a drum mill or grinder to make mulch or compost. Roberge explained that this is just material that is going back into the ground, and that the decomposition is slow.
Some people have found creative ways to recycle their Christmas trees. For example, they offload them to farmers with goats who love to eat the Christmas trees. A treat like candy for them. In some cases, the trees may be able to feed the goats for many months.
Roberge stated that the most important thing to me is keeping the forest land, or that land open space, instead of allowing it to be developed. He stated that it will be a huge help in the fight against climate change if we prevent lots of land being developed.
Amanda Gokee, energy and environment reporter at the New Hampshire Bulletin is responsible First publishedThis is the story.