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The Heart of New England
Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Real or Fake Christmas Tree: What's Better for the Earth?
By Vicki Schmidt

The holiday season arrives and the annual dilemma begins; a real tree or an
artificial one?  

In the state of Maine, where Christmas trees, wreaths, and other festive greens
are estimated by the Maine Forest Service to contribute an annual economic
contribution of over $5 million, many small farms are hoping you buy “live
and local.”

Live holiday greenery is a renewable crop. In the United States, 21,000
Christmas tree farmers provide 100,000 jobs and maintain over 500,000 acres of
open space. Every farm adds oxygen to the atmosphere, provides wildlife
habitat, increases soil stability, and provides year round agri-tourism
attractions.

Holiday “Green Facts” include:

> Every acre of holiday trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18
people for one year!

> Holiday trees are often planted on barren slopes and other areas where no
other crops will grow.

> For each holiday tree harvested, three seedlings are planted the next spring,
and during the 7 – 15 years it takes to grow a Christmas tree, the young trees
absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen with peak efficiency.

Starting a family tradition of decorating a potted tree for inside and then
planting it later is perhaps the ultimate in festive and ecological holiday events.

But live holiday trees can have a downside. Some people have severe allergies
to evergreens, and in an average holiday season, live trees are the cause of 240
fires, 16 deaths and over $13 million in direct property damage.

To keep your tree, family and home safe, follow some simple rules.

> Instead of using electric lights, string popcorn and cranberries for
decorations.  If you must use lights, follow manufactures recommendations
and remember to unplug the lights before leaving home or going to bed.

> Keep live trees fresh and moist by giving them plenty of water every day.  
Do not purchase a tree that is dry or dropping needles.

> Children and pets are fascinated with Christmas trees.  Keep a watchful eye
and do not let them play with wiring or lights.

> Place trees in a stand that is very stable and holds at least a gallon of water.

> Locate holiday trees at least three feet from any heat source and do not place
the tree where it blocks an exit.

For the perfect environmental holiday retire your holiday tree to a snow bank
for sheltering wildlife and hanging suet and bird feeders.  In the spring,
contribute your biodegradable tree to a program where it’s ground and used
for compost or mulch.  Mother Nature will thank you for your special gift.

About the author: Vicki Schmidt is a GIS Environmental Specialist with the Maine
Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Bureau of Land & Water Quality. She
is also a volunteer firefighter and freelance writer for several agricultural and fire science
publications. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the DEP. E-mail your
environmental questions to infoDEP@maine.gov or send them to In Our Back Yard,
Maine DEP, 17 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333.
©The Heart of New England online magazine
...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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