Local Scouts worked Saturday to help their neighbors, and, in a twist, even some fish, during their annual Christmas tree roundup.
Each year, Boy Scout troops and Cub Scout packs collect the dried-up husks of holiday cheer — pine and Douglas fir trees, mainly — in neighborhoods throughout Clark County. Most of the trees are taken to wood recycling operations, where they're ground up, composted and turned into mulch. But this year, about 100 trees were donated to a group that had other plans.
A local organization called Salmon Creek Fly Fishers is using the trees to create in-water habitat for fish. The organization is affiliated with Project Healing Waters, a national group that provides fly fishing classes to veterans.
Dennis Potter, an organizer for the local fly fishers' organization, was busy Saturday hauling away the trees, which will be placed in Stillwater channels below Daybreak Park Bridge, off the East Fork Lewis River in Battle Ground.
Placing logs and trees into streams is a common tactic conservationists use to protect juvenile salmon. The trees act as a place for the salmon to live and eat, and they cool down channels that heat up during the summer months.
"We're placing these trees there so these little guys can find refuge through the maze of branches and give protection from predators," Potter said. "They will provide some shade, and the branches will catch some plantlike material."
It's the first year the organization has asked Scouts to pass along some of the collected trees. They happily obliged, Potter said, and the organization plans to make the same request next year.
The local fly fishers' organization, which started last year, hopes to revitalize fish runs on the East Fork Lewis River, which was once one of Washington's top producers of steelhead. Gravel mining operations have slowed the river's flow, said Ben Dennis, who leads conservation efforts for the Salmon Creek Fly Fishers.
Working with the Boy Scouts made sense, Dennis said. The year-old organization wants more young people to become interested in both fly fishing and conservation.
Most of the county's collected trees — numbering in the thousands — still went to wood processors, as part of a different type of recycling effort.
Hundreds of scouts and troop leaders from two Clark County districts participated in the roundup, intended to prevent the trees from ending up in landfills or people's garages. They also collected gently worn coats, which they give the Friends of the Carpenter. That organization passes them along to other local charities.
"We'll probably save about 5,800 trees from going to the landfill," said Scott Perkins, who organized the drive at McFarlane's Bark in Vancouver for the Columbia Gorge District. "To me, that's a pretty good service for people. The community seems to appreciate it."
At McFarlane's Bark, scouts and troop leaders tossed the trees out of trailers and into two growing piles. The trees are then processed off-site, which can take a month given the volume.
Scout troops organize the pick-ups as fundraisers, so they can attend summer camps or buy gear, but they gather street-side trees whether there's a donation or not.
"It feels good to do a service for other people," said scout Austin Babb, 18, who has collected trees for a decade. "Sometimes people give us donations, but we'll take the trees regardless."
If people missed the scouts during their first run-through, they can call the districts directly to schedule another pick-up. People who live east of Interstate 205 can call Perkins at 360-608-7597, while people west of the freeway can call the Fort Vancouver District at 360-693-1741 during business hours.