Underwater Christmas Trees

01/09/06 – 2/15:32 Bring up forklift sound

On the shores of Lake Havasu at Partner's Point, two men work under the winter sun, loading an Army-green forklift with Christmas trees. It's an odd sight in a desert landscape virtually devoid of trees. It's also unusual because the trees are being loaded onto, of all things, a boat.

More forklift sound. Fade under sound bite.

2/16:23 I've got a rope tied around the Christmas trees and I'm tying another rope to it, with a sandbag on it...this pine is a little bit lighter and it tends to float a bit so we want to keep it down on the bottom

Paul Rutherford is boat captain for the Bureau of Land Management's Fishery Maintenance Division. Over the years, he's sunk thousands of Christmas trees and other types of brush into the depths of Lake Havasu.

2/17:14 ...we have about 842 acres of artificial structure in about 40 coves and what I'll try to do is I'll either try to stack them or I'll try to put them in a row like a reef and that becomes fishing structure

The BLM has been creating artificial fish habitat in Lake Havasu for the past thirteen years. The sunken Christmas trees provide a place for small and endangered fish to escape from larger predators. While Rutherford loads the boat with trees, his colleague, Kirk Koch, fisheries program manager for the BLM, points to a map of the lake.

2/1:04 so, all these yellow areas you can see along the lake both on the California and Arizona shorelines is artificial reef structures that we've installed for the fish 2/5:10 typically you don't get a whole lot of wood washed into Lake Havasu from our desert environment, there's none to generate the Christmas trees and our brush program is trying to replace what the river used to do for us

Koch says because of several dams along the Colorado River leading into Lake Havasu, there's no natural replenishment of debris to provide habitat for the fish. The habitat is especially important here because Lake Havasu sees nearly two hundred thousand fishermen annually, and the lake isn't stocked with sport fish.

2/7:15 so far, we've seen some really dramatic improvements in the number of fish, the angling community is very happy with the product to date and that's got some really major economic values to our community not to mention the environmental aspects and the social catching a fish can be priceless, you know

Back at the boat ramp, Paul Rutherford and his crew are ready to head out on the lake with their load of Christmas trees.

Bring up sound of boat being pushed in water.

2/19:09 are we ready yeah tell him to go ahead

2/20:25 sound of motor starting up blend in boat speeding across the water...

Rutherford speeds across the clear water in his forty foot pontoon boat. About twenty Christmas trees are loaded on two giant hydraulic ramps. Rutherford pulls into a calm cove called Teal Cove. It's named after a type of duck, but could just as easily be referring to the color of the lake water.

Blend in slow boat moving.

2/22:55 motor stops Paul says right there hold on

With the push of a button, the ramps rise up and the Christmas trees slide off into the water.

2/23:00 sound of trees sliding off Paul says hopefully they'll all sink got it there they go gone to be new fish homes

The trees slowly disappear into the water. They come to rest about seventeen feet down, the heavy sandbags anchoring them into the mucky lake bottom. The Christmas trees are clearly visible on Rutherford's sonar screen.

2/28:43 this is the underwater structure that we just put down there 2/30:35 you're seeing fish all along the side of it they want to stick right next to it it becomes their home, the thing they want to hide behind

The artificial reefs are monitored every few months by volunteers from local scuba diving clubs. They check the condition of the habitat and count numbers of fish including Blue Gills and Croppy, as well as the endangered Bonytail Chub and Razorback Sucker.

Starts up motor and starts to cruise.

After all the trees have dropped, Rutherford cruises back to the ramp for another round of Christmas trees, one of the last remaining loads from this holiday season. For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Gillian Ferris Kohl, in Lake Havasu City.

Fade out speeding boat.