Virginia >> The Lynchburg Chapter is home to two lakes that support crappie, bluegill, bass, and catfish. However, the lake bottoms offered little shelter for fish — an issue that had been on the chapter’s “to do” list for several years. William Natyzak, the chapter’s Save Our Streams chairperson, mentioned the issue to his daughter Jennifer, who is hoping to pursue a degree in environmental studies. Jennifer saw an opportunity to help the chapter while gaining hands-on experience in a field she loves.
Jennifer researched fish habitat designs and came across the idea of using recycled Christmas trees to form fish habitats — a win-win for the fish and the environment. The trees would stay out of the local landfill, and the biodegradable materials would not damage lake ecosystems. Collecting evergreens after the holidays would also keep construction costs to a minimum.
In January, Jennifer gathered Christmas trees from friends and a city tree collection area. She took 10 trees to the Lynchburg Chapter. In March, she purchased other habitat construction supplies — concrete, rebar, and form tubes — from local hardware stores.
Jennifer worked with several chapter volunteers and Adryan Flores, a fellow student from her high school environmental club, to construct the fish habitats. First, they cut the form tubes into 10-inch sections. Then they drilled holes through the tree trunks and inserted pre-cut pieces of rebar. Each tree was placed inside a piece of tube and concrete poured around it. (The rebar provides extra stability and helps keep the tree attached to the concrete.) They pounded tall wooden stakes into the ground and tied each tree to a stake to keep the trees upright while the concrete dried. Plastic bags protected the concrete from rain during the drying process.
The next weekend, Jennifer and her father took the trees out on a small, flatbottom boat and dropped them into the water, two to three at a time. The trees were clustered underwater in several groups to provide larger areas of shelter for fish. The trees will break down over time — in 5 years the smaller branches will decompose, and after 10 years all but the largest branches and trunk will be gone. Although the concrete will remain behind, it will gradually be covered up on the lake bottom. At that point, the chapter may choose to drop in new trees to start the process anew.
Jennifer headed off to college this fall with the knowledge that her project would make a lasting difference for the chapter’s fish populations as well as chapter members’ enjoyment of the outdoors.