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Chinook FFA Chapter Will Collect Trees after the Holidays


December 16, 2020

The trees collected by the Chinook FFA will be placed in Fresno Reservoir with the help of volunteers from the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited

The Chinook Chapter of the FFA met last week to work on setting up their Christmas tree pickup plan following the holidays. During that meeting, Advisor Karyn Billmayer learned that the Chinook Green Waste area has been closed down due to improper use. This situation resulted in the group's needing to revise their original service project by determining the trees' final resting place.

In devising a Plan B, the Chapter heard from an FFA Alumni member at the meeting, Lori Swanson, who mentioned that Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) likes to use the trees for fish spawning habitat. On behalf of the FFA Chapter, Swanson contacted FWP game warden, Hayden Hussey to see if his organization wanted the trees. In her report to Billmayer, Swanson said that Hussey sounded thrilled and suggested working together on the project.

Hayden contacted Cody Nagel, the FWP Fisheries Biologist who provides leadership to fish habitat projects in the Havre area. As a partner in the project to improve fish habitat in Fresno Reservoir, the FFA Chapter will bundle the salvaged Christmas trees, which will then be placed in specific areas of the reservoir. Nagel reported that since 2017 when the project was initiated, a total of 127 tree bundles have been deployed in the Christmas Tree Project.

According to Nagel, the primary purpose of the project is to increase yellow perch spawning habitat. "Yellow perch typically deposit their eggs in a gelatinous membrane called a skein, which they often drape over submerged vegetation and branches during their spring spawn. The tree structures also provide cover and security for all small fish, to reduce predation by larger fish and birds," Nagel stated.

Nagel went on to explain that Christmas tree structures are placed so that, as the reservoir fills in the spring, the trees will become submerged in areas likely to be used by yellow perch for spawning activity. By providing additional spawning habitat for yellow perch, it is hoped that over time the numbers of this species will improve in the reservoir. An increase in the abundance of this important forage species is also beneficial to predatory fish in the reservoir, such as walleye and northern pike.

Given the FWP's interest in the trees, the FFA will be collecting them, as originally planned. The FFA members also welcome tree drop offs. Anyone wishing to dispose of a holiday tree is asked to leave it behind the high school, outside of the school shop.

"We brainstormed having individuals contact us instead of having a specific date for pickup. Individuals within close proximity to city limits can either text or call me on my cell phone: (307) 431-6229 or contact me through email at when they are ready for pickup. We basically just need an address," Billmayer said.

FFA members will then organize who is on duty and collect the trees. Upon returning to the high school, the team will drill holes in the tree trunks so that the trees can be wired together in bundles. After that, they will arrange transportation for the trees to arrive in Havre for the biologist, who will place the strings in Fresno with the help of volunteers from the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited.

"Depending on the trees' sizes, each bundle will consist of four to eight trees, which are then anchored to blocks so that they stay sunk on the reservoir's bottom," Nagel said. In performing this phase of the project, FWP has worked in partnership with organizations such as the Fresno Chapter of Walleyes Unlimited who've been assisting with this project since its inception.

About the FFA's involvement, Billmayer expressed excitement and an eagerness to see how the entire process plays out. "Not only will this be a great opportunity to help out our community-since we haven't been able to do many service projects with the virus-but it will also give some of my classes that desired real-world experience. I have a range management class that can learn more about wildlife habitat, and with a little bit of luck that our COVID restrictions' might be relaxed after the first of the year, we will be able to host a FWP speaker as a guest in the classroom to explain the process," Billmayer stated.


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