The little-known benefits of real Christmas trees
In a recent study in germany, for example, researchers have found that Christmas tree plantations may represent important refuges for declining farmland birds, such as yellow hammerheads and common linnets in areas of intensive agriculture. The results ring with another 2018 study in Sauerland in Germany who discovered that plantations are important strongholds for larks. During this time, a study in Belgium found that the diversity of beetles – including endangered species – was higher in Christmas tree plantations than in maize fields, although lower than in plantations of spruces for timber, which grow longer and use less fertilizer and pesticides than Christmas trees.
Meanwhile, in naturally forested areas of the Northeastern United States, younger, open forests like Christmas tree plantations can provide a higher concentration of insects or grasses to support birds and mammals in certain parts of their life cycle, says Finton. “Especially if the Christmas tree farm is part of a much larger landscape or a mosaic of habitat types, including mature, larger and untouched forests, I think there is a real niche ecological that it fulfills.”
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Of course, Christmas trees are usually treated with a lot of pesticides and especially fertilizers to keep them looking good, Capplat says, which has its own impact on the environment. A study led by landscape ecologist Merle Streitberger of the University of Osnabrück in Germany found that organic Christmas tree plantations improved habitat structure and plant species diversity compared to conventional plantations, and recommended a reduction in herbicides in particular.
However, it’s important to note that in some cases, sites used to grow Christmas trees could see far worse uses environmentally, Capplat says. Areas near cities, for example, could find other uses as parking lots, he says. Kosiba also notes that in rural areas of the Northeastern United States, where forests are often lost to sprawling development, Christmas tree farms can provide landowners with significant diversified income. “It allows people to live in these places, to manage and work their land,” she says.
In short, if a landowner has an economically viable Christmas tree farm, they have an incentive to keep that land in “that natural, open state,” Finton says. “It’s an incentive to keep that land open and not, for example, sell land to a situation that might end up in a strip mall, housing estate, or subdivision.”