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Is it harmful to the environment to chop down trees for Christmas?
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Is it harmful to the environment to chop down trees for Christmas?

December 19, 2021

Christmas is a time of celebration and a time to cut down trees. This holiday tradition often leads to discussions about how to best protect the environment.

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Steven Roberge, University of New Hampshire Forest Resources Specialist, shared some of the factors he uses to determine whether cutting a Tree is an environmental boon.

Roberge says that the first caveat is that it’s not as easy as you might think. Many people believe that the practice is harmful to the environment.

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He stated, “When trees have been cut in a thoughtful and appropriate manner, I have no problem managing our forest.”

Christmas trees are different because they are a crop grown in a plantation environment. Roberge said it was like a tomato, but one that has been grown for eight to twelve years.


Christmas tree farms are habitat that can provide ecosystem benefits or services to the natural environment. “It’s still open, the soils still suckin carbon and keep carbon. They filter our water. Roberge said that they provide places for critters like Roberge to bounce around.” This cycle continues because the trees are removed are replaced with new seedlings.

A local farm can be supported to keep it open and free of development. New Hampshire is losing land and forest at a rate of around5,000 acres per annumRoberge stated, “Those acres are almost all being lost to the development.”

Sequestering and carbon storage

Both sequestering and carbon storage are performed by trees.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 is the amount of carbon trees are actively taking out from the atmosphere to use for photosynthesis. It usually peaks in young or intermediate forests, which are trees between 30 to 70 years old. The rate at which trees continue to sequester carbon throughout life is lower than it was in the past.

Roberge stated that small trees, which are often cut for Christmas, are unlikely to store much carbon because they are young. They are however sequestering a fair bit of carbon as they grow quickly. They are a crop so once they are cut down, they are replaced with other trees that will take their place.

Forests are transformed into development, which reduces carbon sequestration and carbon stock.

Roberge stated that if you develop an acre of land you not only lose the ability to sequester future carbon but also the storage of that carbon. 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 stated, “The less pavement the better we are able weather those really severe storms that cause a lot o erosion and flooding.”

End game

It is important to note that the final destination of a Christmas Tree is an important part in 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 has been cut and used as fuel will release carbon into the atmosphere. Wood-burning stoves also produce particulates.Harmful to the human body. Wood is less harmful when it is burned efficiently and produces less smoke.

Many Christmas trees are shipped to a local transfer center. “Many towns and countries will take such material, and put it through a grinder or drum grinder. Or they may make it into compost or mulch. Roberge stated that it’s only material that’s going back into nature and the process of decomposition is very 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 such as “candy” for them. Sometimes, the trees can provide food for the goats for several months.

Roberge said, “To me the most important thing it is keeping that forestland or that land as open spaces instead of being developed.” He stated that it will be a huge help in the fight against climate change if we prevent lots of land being developed.

This story appeared first in the New Hampshire Bulletin, a Georgia Recorder sibling States Newsroom outlets.

The Georgia RecorderIndependent, non-profit news agency that connects public policies with stories of the people and the communities they affect through a steady mix blog posts, in-depth reporting, and social media updates. The Recorder is part State Newsroom, a national nonprofit 501(c),(3) that is supported by grants and a coalition from donors and readers.

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