Tremendous support leads to record number of Christmas tree fish habitat being added to Roosevelt Lake, Arizona.

Most years, the Arizona Game and Fish Department (Department) collects disposed Christmas trees or receives donated unused Christmas trees from around the state to place in reservoirs. A majority of Arizona’s reservoirs are manmade and over time fish habitat, such as woody debris, degrades leaving behind less than optimal habitat for fish. The goal of the ongoing project is to enhance sportfish habitat and congregate fish for fishermen. This year the Department and volunteers went above and beyond and collected the most trees ever with approximately 2,215 trees going into Roosevelt Lake. Whitfill Nurseries donated approximately 900 trees, while the town of Gilbert delivered around 600 trees collected from their Christmas tree drop off locations. On top of that, roughly 700 trees were collected from the city of Mesa’s Christmas tree drop off locations. In addition, the town of Payson contributed another 50 trees from town residents.

This monumental effort occurred over the course of three install dates, Jan. 20, 26, and 30. There were 41 volunteers who recorded 267 volunteer hours and installed the trees in 16 different locations. Trees were placed in a range of depths from 20 to 60 feet and should provide quality habitat for 3 to 5 years. A big thank you to all the volunteers who came out and made this event possible. Installing Christmas trees is not easy work and our volunteer group was truly outstanding!

Christmas trees are a great fish habitat enhancement tool mainly because of the relatively low cost of materials, it provides a natural habitat that boosts productivity in the reservoir, and the engagement with the community. To engage with the communities around the state and be able to repurpose Christmas trees that are headed for a chipper is a great opportunity. The feedback the Department had received from the public is that they really love to hear that the trees they enjoyed during the holidays are being recycled for the benefit of sportfish in their local reservoirs. Volunteers also get the satisfaction of actually seeing the whole thing happen and being a part of it assembling the habitat and deploying the habitat.

The Christmas trees are tied to at least one cinder block with rope and loaded onto a pontoon boat before being driven out to the selected sites and pushed off. They are kept grouped together at the bottom to ensure that diverse habitat is created. Algae will grow on these trees attracting plankton and smaller fish to the habitat. This in turn creates great feeding opportunities for the larger predator fish and a better angling experience.

The success of this project would not have been possible without the tremendous support of the Tonto National Forest, Tonto Basin Ranger District, Whitfill Nurseries, the city of Mesa, the town of Gilbert volunteers and up to six separate work units within the Department. A special shout out goes to Amberle Jones, Lacey Schmitt and the whole Region 6 fish crew along with Jeremy Smith, Nate Solomon and the Construction crew as well as Brian Klinger, PJ Pardon and the Navigation Aid guys. These folks loaned us their equipment and busted their rear to get materials out to the lake as well as put trees in the water. The tremendous support and direct assistance cannot be over celebrated and is greatly appreciated. — Andy Clark, Reservoir Habitat and Angler Liaison Program Manager