When demand (and price) is zero, what do you do with the product?
Bryan Ostlund, director of the Pacific Northwest Christmas Tree Association, said vendors faced a difficult task in predicting how many trees to stock each year. They often end up with a surplus.
Phil Londrico, a tree wholesaler who lives in Manhattan, said retailers he supplies are usually left with 5 percent to 10 percent of their inventory. According to the Census of Horticultural Specialties by the Department of Agriculture, wholesalers sold more than 12.8 million Christmas trees in 2009. “So that’s a lot of trees,” Mr. Londrico said.
Most retailers have their surplus turned into mulch or wood chips. In New Orleans, trees have been used to restore coastlines destroyed in hurricanes. One seller said he took some to the zoo to feed the elephants.
But aquatic habitat projects have become increasingly popular destinations for leftover Christmas trees.
“They last a pretty long time — about five years in the lake,” said Lee Mitchell, a natural resource specialist for the Army Corp of Engineers, who is leading a similar campaign this year in Shelbyville, Ill. He expects to receive 500 or more trees. “Fish use them like crazy. And the fishers really like them, too.”