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Boy Scouts collect truckloads of old Christmas trees

Christmas tree disposal couldn’t be easier for Clark County residents: Just leave the tree out by the curb on the first Saturday in January, and at some point during the day a team of Boy Scout volunteers will drive by and grab it.

Once the tree is picked up, in enters into a streamlined production system that will turn nearly every discarded Christmas tree in Clark County into compostable wood chips that same day. The tradition played out as usual on Saturday.

In the parking lot of Chuck’s Produce in Hazel Dell, Cathy Sbur helped coordinate the scouting groups as they brought in truckloads of collected trees throughout the morning. Sbur is the mother of a Boy Scout from Troop 479, and serves as the tree pickup coordinator for the western half of the county.

“Each scouting unit has a different neighborhood,” she explained over the roar of two nearby wood chippers that crunched their way through dozens of trees from a nearby trailer in the otherwise empty Chuck’s parking lot.

Teams of scouts and volunteers drive on routes to cover all of their designated areas. When their trailers are full, they temporarily break off and bring the trees in to one of four major collection points throughout the county: the Hazel Dell Chuck’s, McFarlane’s Bark, H&H Wood Recyclers and the Columbia Resource Company’s recycling center.

Some groups will be done after just a few hours, Sbur said, while others might be driving around until dark. One troop in Felida expects to bring in about 1,000 trees. The donations go to the individual scout troops to fund their activities.

The operation lasts only one day each year and relies on volunteers and loaned equipment and space from a half dozen different groups, but the participants have had decades of practice to pull it all together.

The Boy Scouts of America’s participation in the program dates to the 1980s, Sbur said, when two scout groups initially began to do the pickup runs. In modern years, about 50 scouting groups wind their way through the county, comprising about 400 volunteers.

The scout troops supply some of the trucks and trailers, with additional equipment volunteered by a local branch of the H.D. Fowler Company.

The wood chippers are supplied by Clark Public Utilities and operated by volunteers from the utility district. The tree chips are fed into big metal shipping containers, each capable of holding about four tons of wood chips, which are then hauled away by Waste Connections. The wood is almost all composted, most commonly for use as mulch.

The chippers break down each tree in just a few seconds, making short work of each batch and creating a lull until the next round of trucks arrive. The volunteers keep an eye on the trees as they’re unloaded, according to Mike Wrenn of Waste Connections, because every year a few stray ornaments manage to cling to the collected trees and have to be removed before they can be chipped.

The total number of collected trees is unknown, but Wrenn said Saturday that the company expected to haul away as many as six containers from the Chuck’s Produce site alone – although it could be a bit less this time around.

“It’s kind of slow this year, honestly,” Sbur said.

The slowdown likely has to do with struggles in the Christmas tree market. Several news stories in recent years have documented how a recession-induced slowdown in tree planting a decade ago has led to a dearth of available trees in the past couple years.

Farmers have also had to contend with a series of dry summers and other regional challenges such as tree diseases, Sbur said, further weakening the available supply.

“Our troop also sells trees, and the cost to buy a tree from a wholesaler has doubled,” she said.


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