Recycled Christmas trees find new life as wildlife habitat

Annual recycling program at Bass Pro Shops helps conservation efforts in the Missouri Ozarks

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – When the glow of the holiday season begins to dim and the decorations come down, another winter tradition begins anew in Springfield, Mo. For the 34th consecutive year, Bass Pro Shops – in partnership with the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Boy Scouts of America/Ozark Trails Council – teamed up to recycle live Christmas trees for new purposes as wildlife habitat.

In the shadow of The “Grandaddy” of all outdoor stores, the original Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, local Boy Scouts brave cold temperatures and volunteer during their school’s holiday break to manage the free drive-up Christmas tree recycling site. Whether it be creating fish refuges in Table Rock Lake or brushy cover for nesting birds, each and every tree collected will be used by the Missouri Department of Conservation to provide crucial habitat needs for wildlife. This year, all donated trees will be bundled and used for cover habitat at Bois D’Arc Conservation Area in southwest Missouri.

“Old Christmas trees, with their many needles and branches, provide excellent wildlife habitat because they’re very dense,” said Francis Skalicky, Media Specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “If you put several of these trees together, they help create inviting cover for songbirds and small mammals like rabbits, as well as nesting habitat for quail, turkeys and so on. It’s a great tree that provides a home for wildlife all year long.”

Boy Scouts from the Ozark Trails Council collected more than 200 Christmas trees for the Missouri Department of Conservation to utilize as wildlife habitat during the 2020 holiday season.

A Win-Win for People and Wildlife

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, approximately 25-30 million real Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. Instead of throwing away trees in dumpsters to decompose in landfills, recycling programs provide a convenient option for quick removal after Christmas and provide for wildlife in need. Since Bass Pro Shops and the Missouri Department of Conservation launched the recycling program in Springfield in 1986, more than 300,000 trees have been collected for habitat in the Ozarks alone.

“This program is so valuable for us because we get to solve crucial habitat needs for free,” said Skalicky. “It’s great we have Bass Pro Shops and the Boy Scouts support us with this annually because you can never have enough wildlife habitat. The generosity of families who come out here and bring their trees is wonderful. Thanks to this collective effort, we are able to provide fantastic habitat for local wildlife without much planning or expense.”

Although it’s a different type of outdoor adventure, even managing the Bass Pro Shops tree recycling site has become a treasured tradition for the Boy Scouts of the Ozarks Trail Council. Donations received from tree recycling directly support Boy Scout community service projects, and the camaraderie forged during the weeklong donation event makes memories for all involved.

“I really enjoy being around friends and helping other people,” said Daniel Bechdoldt, an 18-year-old Eagle Scout from Troop 34 in Neosho, Mo. “We keep ourselves busy loading trees. Being out here volunteering this year helps me reflect on how much fun I’ve had in Scouts and how much fun it is to give back. Knowing we are helping people get rid of trees while making a home for wildlife feels good.”

A pile of recycled Christmas trees await transport to Bois D’Arc Conservation Area near Ash Grove, Mo., where they will be bundled to provide valuable ground cover for small mammals and ground nesting birds.

How to Help from Home

Many towns offer Christmas tree recycling programs, with an estimated 4,000 such programs in operation nationwide (source: National Christmas Tree Association). In addition to finding a recycling program close to home, the Arbor Day Foundation provides a creative list of tips on sustainable ways to recycle Christmas trees. Above all else, never underestimate the ease and enjoyment of recycling trees in the backyard.

“If people want to recycle Christmas trees on their own, there are many ways to give back to wildlife at your own home,” says Skalicky. “You can do something as simple as putting the tree out in your yard with other brush to create ready-made habitat. These trees provide great habitat for ground feeding birds like cardinals, juncos and mourning doves. For your viewing pleasure, put trees on the north side of your yard. Birds will feed on the south side of the tree to enjoy more sun and stay out of the prevailing wind, making it easy to watch these beautiful songbirds throughout the winter.”