Georgia Power enhances Lake Burton’s fishery

Christmas trees have a short life cycle. The evergreens grow for several years just so they can be cut down, decorated and grace our homes for about a month. It used to be that when the Christmas season was over, the trees were unceremoniously dumped in landfills. Now the trees serve another purpose - they provide mulch for playgrounds and landscaping and fish habitat in several Georgia lakes.

Georgia Power and the Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division’s Fisheries section are working together to provide habitat for various bass species in North Georgia’s Lake Burton.

The power company and state agency in late January placed approximately 1,000 recycled Christmas trees, collected in the annual “Bring One for the Chipper” recycling program, into the lake to enhance fish habitat. The trees are being used in two projects on the lake this year. Several hundred trees were used as fish attractors, a program that has been used in Lake Burton for the past four years.

“Lake Burton has no structure in the lake, so by providing the trees, we create a situation where we can put anglers in contact with the fish,” said Anthony Rabern, senior fish biologist for the DNR. “The trees help to shelter the nest and provide protection for young fish and thus improve the survivability rate of the fish.”

Georgia Power fish biologist Scott Hendricks said that adding the structure to the lake enhances the whole ecosystem. “The trees provide a place for micro-organisms to grow, which attract the young or small fish. In turn, the small fish attract the larger bass and crappie who are looking for an easy meal,” Hendricks said. “Where the large fish gather, that is where you will find the anglers.”

About 600 trees are also being used as part of a spawning protection program. “We are going to build spawning benches at the four-foot level of the lake and then provide cover with a line of Christmas trees leading to the deeper water,” said Roy Garrett, DNR Fisheries specialist. “We’ve had a lot of success with the spawning benches on Lake Chatuge and think that by adding the trees, we can improve on that effort at Lake Burton.” The trees are staked down in a series of large diagonal lines that form V’s on the beach at Timpson Cove. When Lake Burton returns to full pool at the end of January, the 70 spawning benches will be located at depths between four and eight feet. All the wood and materials for the benches have been provided by Georgia Power.

This is the fourth year that Hendricks has coordinated the fish habitat project for Georgia Power and he said the program has grown from about 100 trees in the first year.

Trucks from Georgia Power’s Heavy Hauling division transported the trees from Home Depot stores in metro Atlanta to Lake Burton.

“Having Georgia Power as a partner in this program is critical to the success of the fish habitats,” Garrett said. “They can get a large number of trees to the lake, and then provide a lot of manpower to help us build this habitat.”

Hendricks hopes the program will expand in the future, and said that this is a great example of a private-public partnership that works. “Georgia Power can provide resources that the DNR doesn’t have, while at the same time using its technical expertise for the benefit of the Lake Burton fishery. Each year this program gets better because of our cooperative relationship with the DNR.”