This holiday, give the gift of better wildlife habitat

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Christmas tree
Christmas tree (Farm and Dairy archive photo)

I have fond childhood memories of going to get a Christmas tree. We always got a live balled tree, and it was exciting picking out that tree, putting on the decorations, and later planting it (Well, maybe not so much for my parents …).

As we celebrate the holiday season, most of us will be gathered around family and friends and in the center of all of the festivities is always a beautiful Christmas tree. That tree is adorned with memories and put up with love and care by people whom took the time to put it there.

I know as a child, that even after the holidays, it was cool watching our trees grow and knowing they were once our family Christmas tree. Now, I realize it’s not practical or realistic for everyone to get a real balled tree or cut tree, but don’t fear; I also have a conservation idea for those who have artificial trees as well.

Tree-mendous ideas.

My conservation idea isn’t about trying to convince you to get a real tree versus an artificial tree; it’s what you do with the tree after the holidays. So, for those who have a real tree, take note!

Don’t throw out your tree! That’s the worst thing you can do. There are many great options.

Wildlife habitat

Use that cut tree to create wildlife habitat, put it in a pond, or recycle it. In our efforts to be clean, tidy and efficient, we have destroyed or eliminated brush piles, high grasses, weedy areas, hedgerows and safe hiding places for many wild creatures.

A simple old dead tree, surrounded by brush and grasses can become lifesaving habitat for birds, chipmunks, rabbits, voles, foxes, squirrels, and a variety of other animals. The same can be said for that tree if we put an anchor or weight on it and put it in a pond. Fish need protective habitat. Fish use the tree as refuge, a feeding area, protection, and a place to hide. Frogs, turtles and other aquatic life will also use this woody vegetation in shallow areas as habitat.

Recycling trees

Finally, trees can be recycled. Local options may vary but most communities have a composting facility and clean Christmas trees (free of tinsel and ornaments) can be chipped and used as mulch. These options are all wonderful for the environment and considered “green” options.

Simple solutions

If you choose the artificial route for your Christmas tree, you could say that you also went “green” by not cutting a live tree. However, you too can create habitat or help wildlife. Simple things like putting branches in a pile and allowing leaves and tall grasses around that pile will attract small creatures and birds. This winter refuge can always be enhanced with a nearby bird feeder.

I happen to have two bird feeders, just because I love watching the birds and their interactions, especially in the wintertime.

Natural barrier

Near waters, the best buffer to filter and prevent polluted runoff from reaching ditches, streams, ponds and lakes is actually thick, heavy vegetation — simply grass. So by not mowing near the edge — you can create a natural barrier to help reduce pollutants that may get into water.

Anyone can do these simple natural things to enhance habitat. Whether along a field’s edge on a farm, or in a small backyard or even in a city lot, wildlife needs food, water, shelter and space.

Get creative

Think outside the box. As we celebrate the season, please don’t forget about our most precious gift of all, this amazing place we live, and all of the wonderful resources we share and value. Take time to enjoy our freedoms and I hope you appreciate and value the natural resources that we sometimes take for granted. You can always give the gift of habitat and it will be a present that many creatures, flora and fauna will enjoy. Perhaps you yourself may enjoy it as well. I know I miss the days of old fence rows, the sounds of bobwhite quail, seeing the milkweed blow in the wind and monarch butterflies flutter past in the summer.

We’ve “cleaned up” those ditches, fence rows and brush piles, but at what price? It’s not too late. Each person can make a difference. Think outside the box for a different type of present this year.

May you enjoy the holidays and have a very Happy New Year!

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Kelly Riley has been the Education Specialist for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District since 2003. She earned her B.A. Degree in Education from the University of Akron and was previously a teacher with the Tri-County ESC. Kelly can be reached at (330)-262-2836 or by e-mail at kriley@wayneoh.org.

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